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The Latest: UK expelling 23 Russian diplomats over spy spat

By The Associated Press
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LONDON (AP) — The Latest on the poisoning of a former Russian spy in England (all times local):

12:50 p.m.

Britain is expelling 23 Russian diplomats after the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy — the single biggest such expulsion since the Cold War.

Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons on Wednesday that Russia has expressed "disdain" for Britain's wish for an explanation into the attempted murder of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. She says that Russia's actions "represent an unlawful use of force."

May said the Russian diplomats have a week to leave Britain.

She also announced a range of economic and diplomatic measures, including a decision to cancel all high-level bilateral contacts with Russia and to ask the royal family not attend the soccer World Cup in Russia.

Russia has denied responsibility in the March 4 attack on the Skripals.

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12:45 p.m.

Russia's UK ambassador says Britain's behavior in connection with the investigation into the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy is a "provocation."

Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko told Sky News after leaving London's Foreign Office Wednesday that Britain's actions are " absolutely unacceptable and we consider this a provocation." He did not elaborate.

Prime Minister Theresa May is about to announce economic and diplomatic measures against Russia in response to the nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. The father and daughter remain in critical condition in Salisbury, southwestern England.

Yakovenko says "We believe that the measures which are taken by the British government is nothing to do with the situation which we have in Salisbury."

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12:40 p.m.

Russia's cabinet minister says that Moscow has fully destroyed its chemical weapons stockpiles.

In remarks carried by Russian news agencies Wednesday, Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov said Russia completed its chemical weapons dismantling efforts in November and doesn't have any such weapons.

Manturov was responding to a question about Britain's claim that the Novichok military-grade nerve agent designed in the Soviet Union was used to poison ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England.

Prime Minister Theresa May is planning to announce a range of economic and diplomatic measures against Russia in response to the attack on the pair, who remain in critical condition.

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12:25 p.m.

NATO is backing its ally Britain over the poisoning of a former spy, blamed on Russia, and has promised to help investigate the attack.

The alliance expressed "deep concern at the first offensive use of a nerve agent" on alliance territory since NATO was founded in 1949.

NATO also called on Russia to answer Britain's questions in full about the Novichok military-grade nerve agent used against Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the March 4 attack in southern England.

In a statement after talks between NATO ambassadors Wednesday, the alliance "agreed that the attack was a clear breach of international norms and agreements."

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12:15 p.m.

Britain has called for a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the investigation into the chemical agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter.

The U.K. Foreign Office said in a tweet Wednesday that it called for an "urgent" meeting to update council members on the investigation into the March 4 attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

Prime Minister Theresa May is planning to announce a range of economic and diplomatic measures against Russia in response to the assault on the pair. The father and daughter remain in critical condition in a hospital in Salisbury, southwestern England.

May is set to update the House of Commons on the matter later Wednesday.

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11:50 a.m.

EU Council President Donald Tusk has said the nerve agent attack on a former spy in England was most likely "inspired" by Moscow and said he would put the issue to European Union leaders at a summit next week.

Tusk said on Twitter Wednesday that he showed full solidarity with British Prime Minister Theresa May "in the face of the brutal attack inspired, most likely, by Moscow."

EU leaders will gather for a two day spring summit on March 22-23 in Brussels.

Russia has denied responsibility in the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England on March 4.

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11:40 a.m.

Britain's ambassador in Geneva has lashed out at Russia, denouncing its alleged violations of international law, its actions in war-torn Syria, its "deeply alarming" domestic human rights situation and its "highly likely" role in the poisoning of a former Russian intelligence officer in Britain.

Speaking at the U.N.'s top human rights body, Ambassador Julian Braithwaite said Russia's "reckless behavior is an affront to all that this body stands for."

Referring to the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England on March 4, Braithwaite told the Human Rights Council on Wednesday that "Either Russia has deliberately flouted the rules-based international order, or it has lost control of its own chemical weapons."

Russia has denied it is responsible for the poisoning.

Braithwaite also criticized Russia's "illegal annexation" of Crimea, its "continued undermining of Georgia's territorial integrity" and its role in Syria's conflict.

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11:15 a.m.

Russia's foreign minister has dismissed British accusations of Moscow's involvement in the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in England. He added that Russia has no motive to poison Sergei Skripal — but "those who want to press their Russophobic campaign in all spheres of life could have it."

Sergey Lavrov dismissed the British accusations as unfounded and compared London to a prosecutor who oversaw Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's purges and who said confession is enough for conviction.

Lavrov said London went a step further, expecting the world to rely on its suspicions to blame Russia.

He denounced what he described as "huge aplomb" of British officials who neglect the international chemical watchdog's procedure for investigating a suspected chemical attack.

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10:10 a.m.

The Kremlin says Russia rejects the deadline that Britain gave it to explain any involvement in the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy.

Sergei Skripal and his daughter remain in critical condition in hospital after being exposed to a military-grade nerve agent in the city of Salisbury last week.

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, told reporters on Wednesday that Russia "rejects the language of ultimatums" after British Prime Minister Theresa May gave Russia until the end of Tuesday to explain how the Soviet-made nerve agent came to be used to target the ex-spy.

Peskov said Britain has so far only offered "baseless accusations which are not backed up by any evidence" and said Russia would cooperate with the investigation but does not see Britain's willingness to reciprocate.

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8:55 a.m.

Britain's prime minister is set to chair a meeting of the national security council Wednesday to consider sanctions against Russia after Moscow ignored a deadline to explain how a nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union was used to target a former spy in England.

Theresa May is weighing a range of economic and diplomatic measures against Russia Wednesday in response to the assault on Sergei and Yulia Skripal. The father and daughter remain in critical condition in a Salisbury hospital

Moscow says it won't comply with Britain's demands unless the government provides samples of the poison collected by investigators. Russia's embassy in the U.K. warned Tuesday that any sanctions would "meet with a response."

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