Russia expels more UK diplomats and claims plane 'searched' after nerve agent attack – Sky News

Russia has told the UK it must send home “just over 50” more of its diplomats in a tit-for-tat row following the nerve agent attack.

Russia has already retaliated against Britain for the UK’s expulsion of Russian ‘intelligence agents’ by ejecting 23 British diplomats over the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury.

On Friday, the UK’s ambassador to Moscow was told London had one month to cut its diplomatic contingent in Russia to the same size as the Russian mission in Britain.

On Saturday, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that meant Britain would have to cut “a little over 50” of its diplomats in Russia.

The Kremlin has denied suggestions is poisoned the former spy
Over 50 more UK diplomats are expected to be sent home from Moscow

“We asked for parity. The Brits have 50 diplomats more than the Russians,” she said.

It comes after Russia claimed UK authorities searched one of their planes at a London airport in what they called a “blatant provocation”.

The Metropolitan Police denied the force had inspected an airbus that had landed at Heathrow having departed from Moscow.

It said: “We are aware of a story circulating on social media. Please be advised that Metropolitan Police are not conducting a search of an Airbus inbound from Moscow at Heathrow.”

The Russian Embassy in the UK said in a statement: “Today, we have witnessed another blatant provocation by the British authorities.

“Border Force and Customs officers have searched the aircraft that was conducting the Aeroflot flights 2582 / 2583, Moscow – London – Moscow.

“This kind of event is extraordinary.”

They also alleged British officials had tried to search the plane in the absence of the crew.

“After an Embassy officer arrived at the airport, long negotiations were conducted that allowed to ensure the right of the captain to take part in the search,” they added.

“After the search was over, the British officers refused to provide any written document that would specify the reasons for their actions, their legal foundation and their outcome.

“Our attempts to get in touch with the Foreign Office in order to clarify the reasons of the inappropriate behaviour of British officials did not bring fruit. The Embassy has sent a diplomatic note demanding the British side to provide explanations of the incident.

“Of course, we will carefully analyse what has happened. At this moment, we have no other explanation but that the incident at Heathrow is in one way or another connected with the hostile policy that the UK government is conducting with regard to Russia.”

The news comes as Russia continues to expel other foreign diplomats in a tit-for-tat response to countries across the world sending home Russian diplomats in solidarity with Britain following the nerve agent attack in Salisbury.

Russia faces mass expulsions of its diplomatic staff around the world, with more than 150 sent back from 25 countries, and NATO.

Ambassadors from a number of other nations, including Germany, Italy, Poland and France, were also summoned by Moscow’s foreign ministry.

Meanwhile, 60 Russian diplomats expelled by the United States were set to return home on Saturday, Moscow’s envoy said.

In total, 171 people will leave the country, TASS reported, with two Russian planes being provided with one making a brief stopover in New York to collect 14 families.

Ms Skripal is understood to be conscious and talking having been poisoned with novichok while visiting her father in Salisbury.

Police are treating the attack as attempted murder.

Mr Skripal, a former Russian spy, has been in a critical condition since 4 March.

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