EU leaders today hailed the ‘unprecedented’ action against Russia after the bloc announced it is pulling its ambassador out of Moscow in solidarity with Britain over Salisbury.
While five other countries across the bloc are set kick out Kremlin spies on Monday as they back Theresa May’s tough stance.
EU Council President Donald Tusk today said: ‘In these difficult circumstances I am especially pleased that, despite tough Brexit negotiations, the EU has demonstrated unanimity and solidarity with the UK in the face of this attack.’
Mr Tusk said he expects ‘more than one’ EU country to boot out Russian agents on Monday.
EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said: ‘This is an extraordinary measure – we have never taken it before.’
The announcement, made late last night, is a major victory for the PM who has been on a diplomatic offensive to crack down on Russia in the wake of the nerve agent attack.
Donald Tusk (pictured in Brussels today) today said the EU response to Russia is ‘unprecedented’ and shows the ‘goodwill, determination and good political instincts’ the bloc
EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (pictured in Brussels today) said of the response to Salisbury: ‘This is an extraordinary measure – we have never taken it before.’
Sources said France, Poland, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania are among a string of EU states who said they may boot out diplomats. Pictured: Prime Minister Theresa May arriving at the EU summit this morning
Theresa May (pictured in Brussels today with her EU ambassador Tim Barrow) addressed EU leaders on the growing threat from Russia at a Brussels summit last night and afterwards the EU issued a joint statement of solidarity
She told her colleagues at the summit the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia (pictured) in the city of Salisbury showed the Russian menace ‘doesn’t respect borders’
Russian former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia are still in comas fighting for their lives after being poisoned by Novichok on March 4.
Mr Tusk batted off claims the response to Russia could have been tougher and said that the EU’s response to the Salisbury attack was ‘unprecedented’.
He said: ‘It is very difficult to prepare an adequate reaction to this kind of behaviour with nerve agents.
‘We will never have a real chance to respond adequately because we are completely different to the perpetrators of this attack.’
And he also revealed that nations are expected to announce fresh sanctions on Monday, saying: ‘I expect that a number of member states will take additional measures towards Russia on Monday.
‘It is not the end of our actions.’
The EU late last night issued a joint statement of solidarity with Britain after Mrs May briefed leaders at the Brussels summit on the details of the attack.
It read: ‘The European Council condemns in the strongest possible terms the recent attack in Salisbury, expresses its deepest sympathies to all whose lives have been threatened and lends its support to the ongoing investigation.
‘It 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.
‘We stand in unqualified solidarity with the United Kingdom in the face of this grave challenge to our shared security.
‘The use of chemical weapons, including the use of any toxic chemicals as weapons under any circumstances, is completely unacceptable, must be systematically and rigorously condemned and constitutes a security threat to us all.’
Mrs May has said the European Council is ‘standing together’ on the Salisbury nerve agent attack as she warned the threat from Russia ‘respects no borders’.
Members of the British embassy staff applaud as a convoy of vehicles leaves its compound in Moscow after the Kremlin booted out 23 diplomats in a tit for tat strike in the wake of Salisbury
Vladimir Putin (pictured today in Russia) has hit back at Theresa May’s retaliation over Salisbury by expelling British diplomats as the two continues are locked in a bitter stand-off
Leaders of the 28 EU states agreed with the UK that it is ‘highly likely’ Russia is responsible for the Salisbury nerve agent attack, European Council president Donald Tusk (pictured) has said
Sources said France, Poland, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania are among a string of EU states who said they may boot out diplomats.
But while EU countries rowed in behind Britain over the attack, Russia continued with its tit for tat response.
Some 23 British diplomats were driven out of the embassy in Moscow today as their colleagues waved them farewell during a snow storm.
They are being expelled in retaliation for Britain’s decision to expel 23 Kremlin spies living under diplomatic cover in the UK.
Russian ambassador hits back at Boris
The Russian ambassador today lashed back at Boris Johnson over his claim that Vladimir Putin is coping Hitler by glorying in the World Cup.
Alexander Yakovenko said the Foreign Secretary’s comparison to the 1936 Olympics in Germany was ‘insulting’, arguing that Russia ‘defeated the Nazis’.
He said Britain was accusing Moscow of being behind the Salisbury poisoning despite having ‘no evidence’.
At an extraordinary press conference in London, Mr Yakovenko also risked inflaming the row by wishing Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia a ‘speedy recovery’ from their exposure to the military-grade nerve agent.
And he refused to say that Russia would accept the conclusions of international chemical experts on the use of Novichok.
The decision came after Mrs May gave EU leaders at the European Council summit in Brussels a detailed account of the evidence which led the UK to point the finger of blame at Moscow.
European Council president Donald Tusk wrote on Twitter: ‘European Council agrees with UK government that highly likely Russia is responsible for Salisbury attack and that there is no other plausible explanation.’
EU leaders also decided to recall the bloc’s envoy to Russia ‘for consultations’ as a ‘show of intent.’
Mrs May said today: ‘I welcome the fact that last night the European Union Council agreed with the UK government’s assessment that the attempted murder that took place on the streets of Salisbury that it is highly likely that Russia is responsible for that attempted murder and that there is no plausible alternative explanation.
‘The threat from Russia is one that respects no borders and I think it is clear that Russia is challenging the values we share as Europeans and it is right that we are standing together in defence of those values.’
The decision came after Mrs May discussed the attack with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron at a trilateral meeting.
The trio agreed there was ‘no plausible explanation other than that the Russian state was responsible’ for the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.
Lithuania’s president Dalia Grybauskaite said she was considering following Britain’s lead by expelling Russian spies from her country.
Resistance to a firmer line with Moscow was apparently coming from Greece, whose prime minister Alexis Tsipras said: ‘We have to express solidarity to the British people for the Salisbury case, but we also need to be responsible on that issue.’
Prime Minister Theresa May has met with French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Angela Merkel to update them on the Salisbury poisoning
A Number 10 spokesman said Mrs May had also briefed her European allies on Russia’s development of chemical weapons.
He said: ‘The Prime Minister also outlined our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent; Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations; and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations.’
Meanwhile, in London, Russia’s ambassador Alexander Yakovenko yesterday condemned Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s comparison between Mr Putin hosting this summer’s World Cup with Hitler’s 1936 Olympics.
‘Nobody has the right to insult the Russian people, who defeated the Nazis,’ he said.
Mr Yakovenko demanded evidence for Britain’s allegation that Russia was behind the Salisbury attack, saying official statements on the poisoning had been ‘wild’ and the UK had ‘built its official position on pure assumptions’.