UK nerve agent attack: Australia joins 14 EU nations, to expel 2 Russian officials for 'actions inconsistent with their status'

Melbourne: The Australian government will expel two Russian officials over the use of nerve agent allegedly by Moscow against a former Russian spy in the United Kingdom.

The officials will be directed to depart Australia within a week.

In doing so, Australia joins the UK, the US, 14 European Union member states, and other allies who on Monday expelled a number of Russian diplomats in a coordinated response.

"The two Russian diplomats identified as undeclared intelligence officers will be expelled by Australian for actions inconsistent with their status, pursuant to the Vienna Conventions," Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in an official statement on Tuesday.

File image of Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop. Reuters

File image of Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop. Reuters

Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, both remain critically ill in hospital in Britain.

Bishop said Australia's decision reflected the "shocking" nature of the attack, the first offensive use of chemical weapons in Europe since World War II, involving a highly lethal substance in a populated area, endangering countless other members of the community.

"It takes into account advice from the UK Government that the substance used on 4 March was a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia. Such an attack cannot be tolerated by any sovereign nation. We strongly support the call on Russia to disclose the full extent of its chemical weapons program in accordance with international law," she said.

Moscow has denied these allegations.

"The attack was part of a pattern of reckless and deliberate conduct by the Russian state that constitutes a growing threat to international security, global non-proliferation rules against the use of chemical weapons, the rights of other sovereign nations and the international rules-based order that underpins them," said Bishop.

She said that Australia has had strong sanctions in place since 2014 in response to Russia's threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

"We also continue to support international efforts to bring to justice those responsible for the downing of MH17, and we have called out unacceptable Russian action in cyberspace," said Bishop.

"In the same way, we will vigorously back the UKs full investigation of the nerve agent attack," she said.

The minister stressed Australia's commitment with its allies and partners to deter Russia's actions where they are a threat to international security.

"This is why the Government is overhauling offences for espionage, secrecy and treason, and for the first time establishing powerful new foreign interference offences in legislation currently before the Parliament," she said.

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Updated Date: Mar 27, 2018 08:11:00 IST

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