Russia to Expel 23 U.K. Diplomats as Spy Row Intensifies

Russia to Expel 23 U.K. Diplomats as Spy Row Intensifies

MOSCOW—Russia ordered the expulsion of 23 British diplomats in response to a similar move by the U.K. government, which blames Moscow for the poisoning of an ex-double agent and his daughter in southern England.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador to Moscow on Saturday morning and told him that the diplomats had one week to leave Russia. It said in a statement that the measure was “in response to the provocative actions of the British side and unsubstantiated accusations” against Russia.

Permission for the U.K. to open a general consulate in St. Petersburg, Russia, would be revoked and the British Council, a cultural and educational organization, would have to cease activities, the ministry said.

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The move caps a week that has seen relations between the U.K. and Russia reach their lowest point since the end of the Cold War. Britain’s top diplomat on Friday accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering the nerve-agent attack that left Sergei Skripal and his daughter fighting for their lives. In response, the U.K. government said it would expel 23 Russian diplomats and called off high-level contacts with Moscow.

A spokeswoman for the U.K. Foreign Office said Britain had anticipated Moscow’s response. She said ministers and security officials would meet early next week to consider further steps.

“Russia’s response doesn’t change the facts of the matter—the attempted assassination of two people on British soil, for which there is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian State was culpable,” Prime Minister Theresa May said Saturday at the ruling Conservative Party’s Spring Forum.

On Thursday, the U.S. joined the U.K., France and Germany in condemning the attack as “an assault on U.K. sovereignty,” saying it constituted a breach of international law and calling on Russia to explain its role in the poisoning in Salisbury, England.

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President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel shared the U.K.’s assessment that it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attack—the first use of a nerve agent in a North Atlantic Treaty Organization country.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has condemned the use of the poison, saying it “has no place in a civilized world.”

Saturday’s move by Moscow comes after the Trump administration issued its first sanctions against Russia for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, as well as for its role in the NotPetya cyberattack and in the nerve-agent poisoning.

Russia has denied any interference in the U.S. election, while Russian President Vladimir Putin, who runs for re-election Sunday, has steered an increasingly confrontational course with the West.

The Kremlin previously expelled some U.S. diplomats in 2017 after Congress passed a Russian sanctions bill.

—Wiktor Szary, Thomas Grove, Ian Talley and Jason Douglas contributed to this article.

Write to James Marson at james.marson@wsj.com

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