Russia vows revenge as Theresa May kicks out 23 Russian spies from UK and blasts Vladimir Putin’s ‘contempt’ for Salisbury poisoning

Russia vows revenge as Theresa May kicks out 23 Russian spies from UK and blasts Vladimir Putin’s ‘contempt’ for Salisbury poisoning, by Hugo Gye.

The PM said Russia had shown “contempt and defiance” in the aftermath of an attempt to kill ex-spy Sergei Skripal and warned that the poisoning represented “the unlawful use of force by Russia against the United Kingdom”.

She also confirmed that no ministers or members of the Royal Family will attend this summer’s World Cup in Russia – but stopped short of calling on the England team to pull out of the tournament.

Putin’s officials responded with fury, saying Britain’s tough response was “unacceptable, unjustified and shortsighted” and describing it as a “provocation”. …

The expulsion of 23 Russian spies is the toughest act of its kind for 30 years – and will almost certainly spark a tit-for-tat diplomatic war, with British diplomats likely to be kicked out of Moscow. …

Blasting Putin’s refusal to respond to her demand for an explanation, the PM said: “It was right to offer Russia the opportunity to provide an explanation.

“But their response has demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events. They have provided no credible explanation that could suggest they lost control of their nerve agent.

“No explanation as to how this agent came to be used in the United Kingdom; no explanation as to why Russia has an undeclared chemical weapons programme in contravention of international law.

Instead they have treated the use of a military grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance.

“There is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian state was culpable for the attempted murder of Mr Skripal and his daughter – and for threatening the lives of other British citizens in Salisbury, including Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey. …

The PM set Russia a deadline of midnight last night to explain how nerve agent novichok came to be used in the brazen attack – but the regime responded by taunting Britain and boasting about its nuclear arsenal. …

And Nikki Haley, America’s ambassador to the UN said: “Let me make one thing clear from the very beginning, the United States stands in absolute solidarity with Great Britain.

“The United States believes that Russia is responsible for the attack on two people in the United Kingdom using a military-grade nerve agent. Dozens of civilians and first responders were also exposed. …

Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most popular opposition leader, said the best way to show Putin Britain is serious about action would be to target wealthy Russians who are now based in London.

He singled out Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea, and Alisher Usmanov, who has a 30 per cent stake in Arsenal, as well as Putin’s deputy PM Igor Shuvalov, who owns a luxury flat in the capital.

Mr Navalny told The Times: “The unpleasant scenario for Putin would be if the English finally chuck out from their country dozens of our officials and oligarchs with their families and money.