Jens Stoltenberg turns down Russia's demand to deny Ukraine entry Photograph:( Others )
NATO became the latest entity to dismiss Russian diplomats over Moscow's alleged role in a nerve agent attack against a former double agent in Salisbury, as the trans-Atlantic organisation announced on Tuesday that seven officials would have their accreditation withdrawn.
The US-led military alliance expelled seven Russian staff and denied accreditation to three more, bringing the total number of suspected Russian spies expelled to almost 150, including the 23 initially dispatched by Britain.
"This will send a clear message to Russia that there are costs and consequences for their unacceptable pattern of behaviour," NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said in Brussels.
In an unprecedented act of coordination, at least 25 countries have echoed Britain's action in response to the March 4 attack on former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury.
London and its allies have blamed Moscow, citing the use of a Soviet-designed nerve agent Novichok, Russia`s record of targeting dissidents and its history of aggression in recent years, from Crimea to cyber-attacks.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the mass expulsions were "a blow from which Russian intelligence will need many years to recover".
It "could become a turning point", he wrote in The Times newspaper, adding: "The Western alliance took decisive action and Britain`s partners came together against the Kremlin`s reckless ambitions."
Skripal, a Russian military intelligence officer imprisoned by Moscow for passing on information about Russian agents in various European countries, came to Britain in a 2010 spy swap.
Moscow has fiercely denied any involvement in his attempted murder, instead pointing the finger at London.
Chemical weapons experts were currently carrying out an analysis of the agent.
(With inputs from AFP)