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EU recalls envoy to Russia in wake of ex-spy poisoning row

Xinhua | Updated: 2018-03-23 19:16

BRUSSELS - The European Union (EU) is recalling its ambassador to Russia in response to the row over the poisoning of Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal in Britain earlier this month.

The European External Action Service announced in a statement on Friday that the European Council has requested Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, to recall the head of the EU delegation in Russia, who is expected to arrive in Brussels this weekend.

The symbolic move came following a discussion Thursday among EU leaders who had gathered in Brussels for the bloc's spring summit.

The 28-member bloc condemned the attack in Salisbury and said it was supporting the ongoing investigation.

"We stand in unqualified solidarity with the United Kingdom in the face of this grave challenge to our shared security," it said.

The bloc said as the use of chemical weapons constitutes a security threat to all, its members would coordinate on the consequences after the Russian authorities provided their answers.

"The European Union will remain closely focused on this issue and its implications," the summit said in conclusion.

After British Prime Minister Theresa May met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron on the sidelines of the summit Thursday, a spokesperson for 10 Downing Street said Britain, Germany and France have reaffirmed that "there is no plausible explanation other than that the Russian state was responsible."

The three leaders also agreed on "the importance of sending a strong European message in response to Russia's actions" and agreed to remain in close contact in the coming days.

Former Russian double agent Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were found unconscious on a bench outside a shopping center in Britain's southwestern city of Salisbury on March 4. They remain in critical condition in hospital.

Britain claims they were exposed to a nerve agent and holds Russia responsible. The Russian Government has denied any involvement in the incident.

Following the incident, Britain expelled 23 Russian diplomats and announced freezing Russian state assets in Britain, suspension of all planned high-level bilateral contacts, and a boycott of this year's World Cup in Russia by ministers and royal family members. Moscow expelled an equal number of British diplomats in response.

Moscow insists on direct participation in the poisoning investigation.

"Russia firmly insists on a comprehensive investigation of what has happened in Salisbury. We are ready to take (a) most active part in it," Vladimir Yermakov, head of the Department for Nonproliferation and Arms Control at the Russian Foreign Ministry, said at a briefing for foreign diplomats.

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