UK-Russia standoff deepens as Moscow cuts UK diplomats

MOSCOW – Moscow has told Britain it must cut just over 50 more of its diplomatic and technical staff in Russia in a worsening standoff over the poisoning of a Russian former spy and his daughter in England, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Saturday.

Separately, Moscow also demanded an official explanation for the search of a Russian passenger plane in London, saying it could reserve the right to act similarly against British airlines in Russia. Britain said the search was routine.

More than 100 Russian diplomats have been expelled by various countries, including 23 from Britain itself, to punish the Kremlin over the March 4 attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the historic English city of Salisbury.

London says Moscow was responsible for poisoning the Skripals in the first known use of a military-grade nerve agent on European soil since World War II. Russia flatly denies that and has cast the allegations as part of an elaborate Western plot to sabotage East-West relations and isolate Moscow.

Russia had already retaliated in kind by ejecting 23 British diplomats. On Friday, the Foreign Ministry summoned British Ambassador Laurie Bristow and told him London had one month to further cut its diplomatic contingent in Russia to the same size as the Russian mission in Britain. It also expelled 59 diplomats from 23 other countries for backing Britain.