Russia’s foreign ministry said Theresa May’s statement was “flagrant provocation” and the UK Government had chosen “confrontation” with Vladimir Putin and Russia.

Earlier today Mrs May announced the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats as part of a range of measures in response to the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury.

She added: “The UK government concluded it was highly likely Russia was responsible for this attack.”

The announcement has outraged officials in Moscow and Russia’s federation council speaker Valentina Matviyenko called on Mr Putin to respond “promptly and toughly”.

According to Russia’s TASS news agency, Ms Matviyenko said: ”Britain has blamed Russia without putting forward any charges.

“That’s unprecedented. I believe that this is utterly something unheard of in diplomatic practice. We, Russia, must react promptly, toughly and proportionately.

“It is obvious that this is a mean and shameless provocation with a poorly conceived and written scenario of an ostensibly Russian connection and anti-presidential campaign arranged day by day, aimed at dictating a negative image of Russia to the world community.

“Nobody can answer an ordinary, simple question: why should Russia take silly steps that merely fan tensions ahead of the presidential election and the FIFA World Cup finals?”

Investigators have identified the substance used to poison Mr Skripal and his daughter as a chemical used by Russia during the Cold War.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has insisted Russia had nothing to do with the poisoning.

Mrs May said: “Either this was a direct attack by the Russian state against our country or conceivably the country could have lost control of the military grade nerve agent.

“This was not just an act of attempted murder in Salisbury – nor just an act against UK.

“It is an affront to the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. And it is an affront to the rules-based system on which we and our international partners depend.”

Mrs May’s announcement follows the President Putin’s refused to respond to Britain’s ultimatum and provide answers over the chemical attack.

In a blunt warning to the Prime Minister, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova yesterday added that nobody should threaten a nuclear power, according to the nation’s the state-run RIA news agency.

Meanwhile in a statement on Twitter the Russian embassy threaten retaliation if Theresa May was to respond with “punitive measures”.

In a series of tweets the Russian embassy in the UK said: “Moscow will not respond to London’s ultimatum until it receives samples of the chemical substance to which the UK investigators are referring.

“Britain must comply with the Chemical Weapons Convention which stipulates joint investigation into the incident, for which Moscow is ready.

“Without that, there can be no sense in any statements from London. The incident appears to be yet another crooked attempt by the UK authorities to discredit Russia.

“Any threat to take ‘punitive’ measures against Russia will meet with a response. The British side should be aware of that.

More to follow…

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