Russia - UK spy row worsens further

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*MOSCOW: *Russia said on Saturday that Britain had to reduce its diplomatic staff by more than 50 more people as a crisis in ties between Moscow and the West escalated over the nerve agent attack on a former spy.

The new measures came after 23 British diplomats left Russia earlier this month and are seen as Moscow’s punishment after Britain’s allies expelled Russian diplomats over the March 4 poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in an English city.

“Russia suggested parity. The British side has more than 50 more people,” foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova told AFP.

On Friday, Moscow summoned British ambassador Laurie Bristow, giving London a month to cut the number of diplomatic staff in Russia to the same number Russia has in Britain.

He was summoned along with the heads of diplomatic missions from 23 other countries who were told that some of their diplomats had to leave, in the biggest wave of tit-for-tat expulsions in recent memory.

Bristow had been handed a protest note over the “provocative and unfounded actions of the British side which instigated the unwarranted expulsion of Russian diplomats from a variety of states,” the Russian foreign ministry said.

In London, a Foreign Office spokesperson said on Saturday: “We are considering the implication of the measures announced yesterday by the Russian foreign ministry.”

The Foreign Office had said it regretted the most recent developments but insisted Russia was the culprit.

“This 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,” it said

More than 150 Russian diplomats have been ordered out of the US, EU members, NATO countries and other nations.

On Friday, Russia expelled diplomats from 23 countries — most of them EU member states — in retaliation against the West.

France, Germany, Canada and Poland each said that Russia was expelling four of their diplomats.

Other countries including Australia, Ukraine, the Netherlands, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Finland, Lithuania and Norway were also told to pull their envoys. -APP/ AFP

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