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Friday 20 April 2018

Lithuania hints it will also expel Russian diplomats

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May arrive at a European Union leaders’ summit in Brussels yesterday. Photo: Reuters
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May arrive at a European Union leaders’ summit in Brussels yesterday. Photo: Reuters

Gordon Rayner

Theresa May's call for Europe-wide expulsions of Russian diplomats was gaining traction yesterday as one of her fellow EU leaders said she was also considering expulsions.

Dalia Grybauskaite, president of Lithuania, confirmed she was contemplating the deportation of Russians as Mrs May said she was "grateful" for the support EU leaders have given Britain over the Salisbury poisonings.

EU leaders were set to make a joint statement in which they say they "stand in unqualified solidarity" with Britain "in the face of this grave challenge to our shared security".

A leaked copy of a draft agreement of the European Council, which was meeting in Brussels yesterday, includes an acceptance that the use of chemical weapons "constitutes a security threat to us all".

In a significant victory for the British prime minister, the document also states that "member states will co-ordinate on the consequences to be drawn in the light of the answers provided by the Russian authorities".

It suggests Mrs May's warning to EU leaders that they are "all at risk" from Vladimir Putin's Kremlin has hit home, with a hint that further EU sanctions could be on the way.

The UK prime minister was expected to urge EU leaders to take action against Russia when she addressed them at a European Council dinner last night.

As she arrived for the summit, Mrs May said: "Russia staged a brazen and reckless attack against the United Kingdom when it attempted the murder of two people on the streets of Salisbury.

"I'll be raising this issue with my counterparts because it's clear the Russian threat does not respect borders and indeed the incident in Salisbury was part of pattern of Russian aggression against Europe and its near neighbours from the Western Balkans to the Middle East."

She added: "We do see this as part of a pattern of Russian aggression against Europe and its near neighbours, this is a subject that we have discussed before and I look forward to further discussions with my European colleagues.

"I'm grateful for the solidarity and support that they've shown the United Kingdom."

Lithuania, the first country to declare independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, shares a border with the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and withstood Soviet attempts to bring it back into the Soviet Union before it formally broke up.

Ms Grybauskaite offered her full support to Mrs May as she arrived at the summit, and when she was asked whether she might expel Russian diplomats she said: "We are considering such measures."

The Kremlin has hit back at comments made by UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in which he compared Russia's hosting of the 2018 World Cup to Nazi Germany hosting the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Kremlin, said his comments were "disgusting and unacceptable".

He said: "It's a completely disgusting statement, it does not become the minister of foreign affairs of the country or of any country.

"It is undoubtedly insulting and unacceptable."

Moscow's ambassador to London Alexander Yakovenko also condemned Mr Johnson's comments, saying: "Nobody has the right to insult the Russian people, who defeated the Nazis."

Jeremy Corbyn also criticised Mr Johnson, saying: "I am not sure the language used by some of our ministers is particularly helpful or sensible.

"I don't have any problem with the people of Russia, I don't have any problem with people of any country. Do we have problems with people that abuse human rights? Yeah, sure we do.

"That you have to draw that distinction and that difference and we would do that and I hope at the end of this weekend the council of ministers will come out with a statement which is both strong and robust, but also make sure there is dialogue, robust and serious dialogue, in the future."

Irish Independent

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