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EU states poised to follow UK suit, expel Russia diplomats over alleged spy attack

(Web Desk) – Standing united with the UK, the European Union recalls its envoy to Russia over claims of Moscow’s involvement in a nerve agent attack on British soil, while several of the bloc’s members are mulling over expulsions of Russian diplomats at London’s request.

In a statement issued following a Thursday summit on the issue in Brussels, EU leaders voiced full support for UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s stance against Moscow and said it is “highly likely Russia is responsible” for poisoning Soviet-era spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in a British town earlier this month.

The 28-nation further called the alleged attack, which is still under investigation, a “grave challenge to our shared security.”

The Skripals were found unconscious on March 4 on a bench in the British city of Salisbury. They remain hospitalized in critical condition.

Britain claims the Soviet-designed Novichok nerve agent has been used to poison the pair, and that Russia had the means and the motive for such an attack.

However, Moscow denies any involvement, calling those claims as “absurd.” It says the substance used in the attack could have originated from the countries studying it, including the UK itself.

Following the summit, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said they had agreed to recall the European Union’s ambassador to Moscow for consultations.

AFP quoted an unnamed EU official as saying that “some member states are looking into possibly expelling Russian diplomats or recalling national diplomats.”

British media reports identified those countries as France and Russia’s closest European neighbors, including Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland.

The poisoning incident has worsened already tense ties between the EU and Russia.

Britain expelled 23 Russian diplomats in the aftermath of the poisoning incident, and has been pressing its European allies to follow suit.

Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite said, “All of us we are considering such measures.”

May told EU leaders that the poisoning case is part of a “pattern of Russian aggression,” warning that Moscow would pose a “threat” for the “years to come.”

Separately, she held talks in Brussels with French President Emanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who also urged a “strong European message” to Moscow.

All the anti-Moscow rhetoric comes as the UK has not presented any evidence to support its accusations against Russia.

Earlier this week, experts of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) arrived in the UK for a probe into the attack. They say it could take up to three weeks to analyze the samples gathered from the scene.

As the Europeans deliberated, Russia’s Ambassador to Britain Alexander Yakovenko warned that the UK has “bad record of violating international law and misleading the international community.”

History shows that British statements must be verified,” he added, urging a “full transparency of the investigation” as well as cooperation with Moscow and the OPCW experts.

Moscow has repeatedly called on London not jump to conclusions, offering cooperation with London in probing the case.

Russia responded to the UK’s expulsions by expelling exactly the same number of British diplomats, and has vowed it would hit back if London fails to stop its anti-Moscow measures.

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