March 27, 2018 / 2:38 AM / 7 months ago

RPT-UPDATE 1-Australia to expel two Russian diplomats over UK nerve agent attack, hints at World Cup boycott

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SYDNEY, March 27 (Reuters) - Australia will expel two Russian diplomats in response to a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain that the British government has blamed on Moscow, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Tuesday.

The United States said on Monday it would expel 60 Russian diplomats, joining governments across Europe in punishing the Kremlin. In total, 100 Russian diplomats were being removed, the biggest Western expulsion of Russian diplomats since the height of the Cold War.

“Together with the United Kingdom and other allies and partners, Australia is taking action in response to the recent nerve agent attack in Salisbury, UK,” Turnbull announced in a statement.

“Two Russian diplomats identified as undeclared intelligence officers will be expelled by the Australian government for actions inconsistent with their status, pursuant to the Vienna Conventions.”

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said other options, such as Australia boycotting the 2018 World Cup in Russia, could also be taken over the poisoning incident.

“There are a whole range of further options of action that could be taken, the boycott of the World Cup is one of the further actions that could be taken in relation to this matter,” Bishop told reporters in Canberra.

Australia has already imposed a series of sanctions against Russia following the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 and the Russian annexing of parts of Ukraine in 2014.

Traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, MH17 which was shot down in 2014 killing all 298 passengers and crew. Most of the victims were Dutch and 28 were Australians.

International prosecutors concluded the airliner was shot down by a missile fired from a launcher brought into Ukraine from Russia and located in a village held by pro-Russian rebels, contradicting Moscow’s suggestion that Ukraine’s military brought down the plane. (Reporting by Wayne Cole and Colin Packham; Editing by Tom Brown and Michael Perry)

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