TENSIONS between the West and Russia have heightened as Moscow continues to plan its response to Theresa May’s expulsion of diplomats.
A tit-for-tat reaction is expected to the prime minister’s decision to kick out 23 diplomats who she said were undeclared intelligence officers.
And Moscow is also plotting a response to the United States after Donald Trump’s administration imposed sanctions on Russians allegedly involved in interfering with the 2016 US elections and cyber-attacks.
The attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury was highlighted by the US Treasury as one of the justifications for the tougher line against Moscow.
The US treasury department said the use of a military-grade nerve agent in the Salisbury incident ‘further demonstrates the reckless and irresponsible conduct of its (Russia’s) government’.
The sanctions prompted a swift threat of retaliation from the Russian government, which said a response was already being prepared.
Meanwhile the Kremlin continued to consider how to respond to Mrs May after the largest expulsion of diplomats since the Cold War was announced on Wednesday.
Speaking at an event in Moscow on last night, Vladimir Putin said Russia was a ‘proud’ nation ‘and will be in the future, too’.
Mr Putin had a meeting with his security council on yesterday to consider UK-Russia relations.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov warned Moscow will expel British diplomats ‘soon’ and suggested that the ‘provocation with Skripal’ was an attempt to distract attention from the Brexit process.
Mr Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the final decision on retaliatory measures ‘will, of course, be made by the Russian president’, adding: ‘There is no doubt that he will choose the variant that best of all corresponds to the interests of the Russian Federation.’
In a demonstration of the West’s unity, Mrs May and Mr Trump, along with Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron, issued a joint statement endorsing the PM’s conclusion that it was ‘highly likely’ Russia was behind the attack on the Skripals.