MOSCOW (AP) — Pressure increased Wednesday on Moscow over the poisoning of a former Russian double agent in Britain as more Russian diplomats were being expelled or recalled. Russia says it will respond to the moves, but a senior diplomat said there is no hurry to retaliate.
Russia denies Britain’s accusation that it was behind the March 4 nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the city of Salisbury. Both remain in critical condition.
Skripal was imprisoned in Russia before being sent to Britain in a 2010 spy swap.
More than 20 nations have announced the expulsion of more than 150 Russian diplomats in the dispute, including 60 by the United States. Britain expelled 23 and Russia retaliated with the same number, but it has not responded to the other moves.
Montenegro on Wednesday announced it would expel a Russian diplomat. Slovakia and Malta said they would recall their ambassadors from Russia.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow is in “no rush” to retaliate.
He told the RIA Novosti state news agency that Russia is “thoughtfully and thoroughly” considering its response. Separately, he was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying the expulsions were directed by London and Washington, adding that other nations succumbed to their pressure. He added that “all options are on the table” regarding Russia’s response.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters that Russia’s response would come soon and that it will be “timely and will suit the interests of Russia.”
President Donald Trump spoke with British Prime Minister Theresa May about the coordinated effort by Western allies to expel Russian intelligence operatives. The White House said the leaders agreed Wednesday that dismantling Russian spy rings is a priority to “curtail Russian clandestine activities and prevent future chemical weapons attacks on either country’s soil.”
Britain says the Skripals were poisoned with a nerve agent developed in Soviet times and that it must have come from Russia.
Russian officials complain that Britain has not presented evidence to back up the accusation.
The Russian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday said British special services could have been behind the poisoning, Moscow’s bluntest claim yet of alleged British foul play.
British officials have previously rejected such Russian claims as nonsense.