Five allies mulling Russian expulsions as EU recalls Moscow ambassador

 
Catherine Neilan
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Temperatures Plunge In Moscow
The EU ambassador is being brought in from the cold (Source: Getty)

The EU has kick-started the first of what is expected to be several retaliatory measures against Russia's involvement in the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, recalling its ambassador from Moscow.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said the EU ambassador to Russia was being recalled to consult with Brussels over the Salisbury attack, but was careful to describe it as a “measure” rather than a formal “sanction” against Moscow.

France, Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are understood to be considering expelling Russian diplomats, following backchannel conversations with British officials, who are seeking more than just words when it comes to solidarity with the UK.

Last week 23 diplomats - who Theresa May described as "undeclared intelligence officers" - were forced to leave the country. The government has hailed the moment as a significant step in dismantling Russia's spy network.

The Lithuanian president Dalia GrybauskaitÄ— - who has not congratulated Putin on his election victory - told reporters: “All of us, we are considering such measures.”

It comes as the EU issued a joint statement condemning the act and going further than was expected in terms of laying the blame with the Kremlin.

"[The European Council] agrees with the United Kingdom government's assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible and that there is no plausible alternative explanation," the statement said. "We stand in unqualified solidarity with the United Kingdom in the face of this grave challenge to our shared security."

The EU28 leaders discussed the Salisbury attack for nearly four hours over dinner, where they dined on scallops and a rack of lamb - before agreeing the words.

Prior to the dinner neither Donald Tusk nor Jean-Claude Juncker would comment on whether they now saw Russia as a "strategic enemy" - echoing the words of a senior Whitehall official earlier this week.

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