Government to decide whether to expel Russian diplomats

Overnight, Australia joined 20 other countries by announcing expulsions in the wake of the Salisbury attack

Government to decide whether to expel Russian diplomats

Simon Coveney. Picture by: Artur Widak/SIPA USA/PA Images

The Government will decide this morning whether to expel Russian diplomats after the Salisbury spy poisoning.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney was presented with a list of options last night after a review of Russian activity here.

He will brief his cabinet colleagues on the issue this morning.

21 countries around the world have announced they are expelling Russian diplomats, with the EU and US announcing coordinated action yesterday afternoon.

It comes after British officials accused Russia of responsibility for the attack on former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia - either by directly ordering the attack, or through losing control of the Soviet Union developed nerve agent allegedly used.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement.

48 Russian officials from the country's US mission will be expelled alongside 12 'intelligence operatives' from the Russian mission to the UN, while 13 diplomats are to be expelled from Ukraine.

France, Germany and Poland yesterday each announced the expulsion of four diplomats in solidarity with the UK, with 11 other EU countries also set to expel one or more officials.

Canada is also expelling four Russian diplomats, claiming: "The four have been identified as intelligence officers or individuals who have used their diplomatic status to undermine Canada’s security or interfere in our democracy. For similar reasons, three applications by the Russian government for additional diplomatic staff in Canada will now be denied."

'Shoulder to shoulder'

Overnight, Australia became the latest country to kick out Russian diplomats.

In a statement, the country's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said: "Two Russian diplomats identified as undeclared intelligence officers will be expelled by the Australian Government for actions inconsistent with their status, pursuant to the Vienna Conventions. The two officials will be directed to depart Australia within seven days.

"This decision reflects the shocking nature of the attack - the first offensive use of chemical weapons in Europe since World War II, involving a highly lethal substance in a populated area, endangering countless other members of the community."

Welcoming the international announcements, British Prime Minister Theresa May said the expulsions show that "we all stand shoulder to shoulder in sending the strongest signal to the Kremlin that Russia cannot continue to flout international law and threaten our security".

The Russian government vowed a 'mirror-like' response, saying: "British allies don’t have any objective and exhaustive data and blindly follow the principle of Euro-Atlantic unity at the expense of common sense, the rules of civilised state-to-state dialogue and the principles of international law."

Russia previously expelled 23 British diplomats in response to a similar move by Theresa May.

Sergei and Yulia Skripal remain in a critical but stable condition in hospital following the Salisbury attack on March 4th.