Russian Federation to expel British diplomats as crisis over ex-spy attack deepens

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Tensions between the West and Russia heightened on Thursday after Theresa May and Donald Trump, along with Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Emmanuel Macron, issued a joint statement endorsing the British Prime Minister's conclusion that it was "highly likely" Russia was behind the attack on the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury.

The UK had told its allies it was "highly likely" that Russian Federation was responsible for the attack and the allies said they "share the UK assessment that there is no plausible alternative explanation".

The Russians are accused of using a nerve agent to try killing former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, with wider-ranging effects on a number of British citizens who happened to be in the area.

Sergei Skripal, 66, and Yulia Skripal, 33, remain in a critical condition in hospital.

Ms Bishop said Australia would work closely with the United Kingdom in the short-term, backing Britain's decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats and cut off high-level contacts with Moscow. This follows Prime Minister Theresa May's announcement that 23 Russian Embassy staffers will be expelled.

The nerve agent was used on a former Russian spy and his daughter in the city of Salisbury.

The sanctions had been in the works for weeks, but the timing comes just as the United States condemned Russian Federation for its use of nerve agent to poison a double agent in the United Kingdom, signing on to a joint statement as a sign of solidarity with European allies. Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he did not want to see an "outbreak of Russophobia", telling Sky News the British response to the attack was "proportionate".

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose response to the attack has led to criticism from some on his backbenches, said "the evidence points towards Russia" being responsible - but the possibility of gangsters being behind the attack rather than the Kremlin could not be excluded.

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A Putin spokesman said the President would "choose the option that will serve the interests of Russian Federation best of all", and complained that May's accusations were "not backed up by anything".

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, an ex-commander of the British Army's chemical, biological, radiation and nuclear regiment, said Novichok was only ever manufactured at one site, a military laboratory at Shikhany in central Russian Federation.

Russian Federation is expected to take retaliatory measures soon.

A former US diplomat urged a more public response. "The British blame game based on the word "likely", but not on trustworthy investigation, hard facts and proper worldwide procedures, is highly reprehensible and extremely counterproductive". The British prime minister accused the Russian state of being guilty of the attempted murder of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, and of threatening the lives of United Kingdom citizens.

"We just need people to come back to the city", Haydon told reporters after May had left. The Treasury Department is using that law to target the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB; the Main Intelligence Directorate, of GRU; and six GRU officials. Peskov reiterated Russian denials of involvement in the attack on the Skripals.

The global chemical weapons watchdog says the class of nerve agents used in the Skripal attack has never been declared by any of its member states.

The Labour leader used an article in the Guardian to urge the government to take a "calm, measured" approach - and warn against the drift towards a "new cold war" with Russian Federation.

Britain said it was not enough though, and in 2016, a judge-led inquiry concluded that Putin had probably approved Litvinenko's murder, something Moscow denies.

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