Russia expels 23 UK diplomats, closes British Council in retaliation


Having warned it would retaliate proportionately, this morning Russia did just that when it expelled 23 British diplomats – the same number as the UK kicked out a few days earlier as punishment for Moscow’s alleged poisoning of a former double agent. It also ordered the closure of the UK consulate in St Petersburg and the Moscow British Council, a “cultural and educational” organization.

Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the British ambassador to Moscow and told him that the measures are “in response to the provocative actions of the British side and the unsubstantiated accusations” against Russia, the ministry said. Russia gave the British diplomats one week to leave. “If further actions of an unfriendly nature are taken against Russia, the Russian side reserves the right to take other retaliatory measures,” the ministry said.

A spokeswoman for the U.K. Foreign Office said that Britain had anticipated Moscow’s response.

“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,” the spokeswoman said but added that “we continue to believe it is not in our national interest to break off all dialogue between our countries but the onus remains on the Russian state to account for their actions.”

She said that the UK Foreign Office said the National Security Council would meet early next week to consider the next steps.

The order to close the British Council ends nearly 60 years of its work in Russia as the U.K.’s international organization for culture and education, Bloomberg reported. It opened offices in Moscow under a 1959 agreement with the Soviet Union and expanded to 15 Russian cities after the 1991 collapse of the Communist state. Its presence gradually reduced amid mounting political confrontation between the U.K. and Russia, which also disputed the legal basis for the council’s presence in the country. In 2008, Russia ordered the council to close all its offices except the Moscow headquarters as part of retaliation for the U.K.’s expulsion of diplomats over the radioactive poisoning of former security-service officer Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. A U.K. public inquiry concluded in 2016 that Putin “probably” approved the killing.