Only hours after Britain expelled 23 Russian diplomats over the nerve-agent poisoning of a Russian ex-spy, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations sharply blamed Moscow on Wednesday for the attack and warned "we will act" if chemical weapon use continues.
The sharp comments by U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley echoed Prime Minister Theresa May in condemning Russia for the "unlawful use of force" in the recent poisoning of Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia, 33, in the British town of Salisbury.
Haley told the U.N. Security Council that the United States believes Russia is responsible for the attack, which used military-grade chemical weapons.
"If we don’t take immediate, concrete measures to address this now, Salisbury will not be the last place we see chemical weapons used," she said.
"If we don't take immediate action, they could be used here in New York," she said.
Haley called the crisis a "defining moment" for the U.N. and said the United States was solidly behind Britain.
"When our friends in Great Britain face a challenge, the United States will always be there for them," she said. "Always."
Haley reeled off a series of recent events, linking Russia, Syria and North Korea to the use of chemical weapons, that have triggered repeated appeals to Moscow to end its use of the banned materials.
She said the U.S.took no pleasure in repeatedly criticizing Russia over the issue, "but we need to have Russia quit giving us so many reasons to do so."
The British prime minister's move to toss out the 23 Russians was the largest expulsion of diplomats from Britain since the Cold War. May said her government will cancel all high-level bilateral contacts with Russia.
She said she took the action after Moscow failed to explain how a Russian-made nerve agent was used to poison the ex-spy and his daughter.
"(Russia's) response has demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events," May said in a statement to Parliament.
"They have provided no credible explanation that could suggest they lost control of their nerve agent. No explanation as to how this agent came to be used in the United Kingdom; no explanation as to why Russia has an undeclared chemical weapons program in contravention of international law. Instead they have treated the use of a military grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance," she said.
The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement that May's allegation of involvement in the poisoning incident "is an unprecedentedly blatant provocation, which undermines the foundations of dialogue between our countries," the TASS news agency reported.
The diplomats, who have not been named but were described by May as "undeclared intelligence officers," were given one week to leave. She also revoked an invitation to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and said the British royal family would not attend the soccer World Cup that Russia is due to host later this year.
"We will freeze Russian state assets wherever we have the evidence that they may be used to threaten the life or property of U.K. nationals or residents," May said.
She said she had spoken to Britain's international allies, including President Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. They agreed to "cooperate closely in responding to this barbaric act," May said.
The Kremlin rejected British claims that it was involved in the poisoning incident and said it would not accept any British ultimatum over the issue.
"Moscow’s stance is well known, London was told about Moscow’s position through diplomatic channels: Moscow has no connection to the incident that took place in the United Kingdom," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to Russia media.
"Moscow won’t accept absolutely unfounded accusations against it, which are not substantiated by any evidence, and won’t accept the language of ultimatum," he said.
The Skripals remain in critical condition in a British hospital after they were found slumped unconscious on a park bench in Salisbury on March 4. Salisbury is about 90 miles west of London. The pair had been on a shopping trip.
Outspoken critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin have been killed or died under mysterious circumstances, including journalists, opposition politicians and exiled tycoons. But it is not clear why the Skripals may have been targeted.
Stanglin reported from McLean, Va.