Russia responds to diplomats’ expulsions
Russia announced the expulsion of more than 150 diplomats, including 60 Americans, on Thursday and said it was closing a U.S. consulate in retaliation for the wave of Western expulsions of Russian diplomats over the poisoning of an ex-spy and his daughter in Britain, a tit-for-tat response that intensified the Kremlin’s rupture with the United States and Europe.
The Russian move came as a hospital treating Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, said the woman was improving rapidly and was now in stable condition, though her father remained in critical condition.
The Skripals were found unconscious and critically ill in the English city of Salisbury on March 4. British authorities blamed Russia for poisoning them with a military-grade nerve agent, accusations Russia has vehemently denied.
Two dozen countries, including the U.S., many EU nations and NATO, have ordered more than 150 Russian diplomats out this week in a show of solidarity with Britain – a massive action unseen even at the height of the Cold War.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at news conference Thursday that Moscow will expel the same number of diplomats from each of those countries in retaliation.
U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman was summoned to the Foreign Ministry while Lavrov was speaking, where he was handed notice that Russia is responding quid pro quo to the U.S. decision to order 60 Russian diplomats out.
In a statement, Huntsman said there was “no justification” for the move and that it shows Moscow isn’t interested in dialogue with the United States about important matters.
“Russia should not be acting like a victim,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
Later, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Russia’s action was “not unanticipated,” but she said the retaliation by Moscow “marks a further deterioration in the United States-Russia relationship.”