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Russia 'Regrets' EU Move To Recall Envoy In Spy Dispute


Members of the British Embassy staff applaud as a convoy of vehicles leaves its compound in Moscow on March 23.

The Kremlin has voiced "regret" over the European Union's decision to recall its envoy to Russia after the bloc concluded it was "highly likely" that Moscow was responsible for the poisoning of a former Russian double agent in England.

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman made the remarks on March 23, hours after EU leaders said there is "no plausible alternative explanation" than Russian responsibility for the nerve toxin attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.

At a summit in Brussels, the leaders said they would recall EU envoy Markus Ederer. He is expected to arrive back in Brussels over the weekend, an EU statement said.

"We regret in this context that again such decisions are made using the wording 'highly likely' and judgments are based on this," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

"We don't agree with this and we repeat again that Russia absolutely definitely has nothing to do with the Skripal case," Peskov said. He said the Kremlin specifically regrets the "recall [of the envoy] for consultations."

Peskov said Russia did not know what "precise information the British side used when it discussed the topic of the Skripals with its colleagues."

"We also don't know what exactly the leaders of the EU states agreed with when they talked about their support for Britain," he said.

Russia "unfortunately is not able to receive any information at all directly on the so-called Skripal case," Peskov complained.

Sergei Skripal, 66, and Yulia Skripal, 33, remain hospitalized in critical condition after they were found collapsed on a bench in the city of Salisbury on March 4. A British judge said on March 22 that they might have suffered brain damage and the prospects for recovery were uncertain.

Britain accuses Moscow of using a military-grade nerve agent that it developed during the Cold War, part of a series known as Novichok, to attack them with intent to kill.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on March 16 that it was "overwhelmingly likely" that it was Putin's decision "to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the U.K., on the streets of Europe for the first time since the Second World War."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the bloc is mulling further punitive measures against Moscow, which has already been subjected to EU sanctions over its interference in Ukraine.

"We are determined to react together, with the language we used here, but also possibly through additional measures," Merkel said on March 22.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said she was ready to expel Russian spies from her country -- following the lead of Britain, which has kicked out 23 Russian diplomats it said were spies.

Other Baltic states as well as Poland and the Czech Republic said they are also considering taking steps, such as expelling Russian diplomats.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on March 23 that the country will "probably" expel Russian diplomats. Babis said he would consult with Foreign Minister Martin Stropnicky over the weekend and announce a decision on March 26.

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said that his government “will support the United Kingdom” and could expel Russian spies operating under diplomatic cover, Latvian public broadcaster LSM reported.

“The concrete details will be coordinated [with other EU countries], and it could take place next week,” Rinkevics said.

Meanwhile, a convoy of vehicles left the British Embassy in Moscow on March 23, ahead of Moscow's deadline for 23 British diplomats to leave the country, Reuters television footage showed.

Russia announced on March 17 that it was expelling 23 British diplomats in a retaliatory move against London and gave the Britons a week to leave the country.

In addition to expelling the Russian diplomats, Britain has suspended high-level contacts with Moscow and said British ministers and royal family members will not attend the soccer World Cup in Russia in June and July.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, dpa, and AP
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