LONDON, March 20. /TASS/. Russian diplomats being expelled from Great Britain have set off to the airport to return to Russia, a TASS correspondent reported. Minivans carrying the diplomats and their family members left the Russian embassy’s premises to the sound of the Proshchaniye Slavyanki patriotic march. The diplomats will leave the United Kingdom on a special flight sent from Russia.
Around 80 people are going to return to Russia, including many children.
The expulsion of diplomats is a result of a diplomatic storm between Moscow and London, which followed the poisoning of former Russian military intelligence (GRU) Colonel Sergei Skripal, who had been convicted of high treason in Russia, and his daughter Yulia. The two of them suffered the effects of a nerve agent in the British city of Salisbury on March 4. They are currently in the hospital in critical condition.
London accused Moscow of being involved in the attack but failed to present any evidence. British Prime Minister Theresa May said the substance used in the attack had been a Novichok-class nerve agent developed in the Soviet Union. On March 14, she accused Russia of an "unlawful use of force" against the United Kingdom and announced the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats and the suspension of high-level contacts.
Russia has rejected all of the United Kingdom’s accusations. On March 17, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that in retaliation to the UK’s steps, 23 British diplomats would be expelled within a week, the British consulate general in the city of St. Petersburg would be closed and the British Council would have to shut down its operations in Russia. At the same time, Moscow pointed out that further measures could be taken "should there be any more hostile actions against Russia.".