British Ambassador to Russia Laurie Bristow arrives at the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow. Photo: Reuters/David Mdzinarishvili

Russia will expel 23 British diplomats in a retaliatory move after the United Kingdom accused the Kremlin of orchestrating a nerve toxin attack on a former double agent and his daughter in England.

Escalating a crisis in relations, Russia confirmed it would shut down the activities of the British Council, which fosters cultural links between the two countries.

It was also withdrawing agreement for the UK to operate a consulate-general in St. Petersburg. The Russian Foreign Ministry announced it was giving the 23 diplomats one week to leave the country.

The move came in response to the UK’s decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats after an attack in Salisbury left former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia Skripal, 33, critically ill in hospital.

British investigators are working on the theory that the toxin was impregnated in an item of clothing or cosmetics that was opened in Skripal’s house, the Daily Telegraph newspaper reported, citing unidentified sources.

“They are working on the theory that the toxin was impregnated in an item of clothing or cosmetics, or else in a gift, that was opened in his house in Salisbury, meaning Miss Skripal was deliberately targeted to get at her father,” the Daily Telegraph said.

As tensions increase, the former UK military chief, Admiral Lord West warned there was a “real risk of war” with Russia, according to British media reports. He called on the world to “get a grip and make sensible moves” when dealing with Russia and its President Vladimir Putin.

“[Putin] is extremely dangerous [and] thinks he can get away with anything,” the Daily Star newspaper reported. “If we are not careful, we will end up in [a] war.”

– with reporting from Reuters, AP and AFP

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