The FINANCIAL — Moscow says it will shut down the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg and expel from Russia the same number of diplomats that Britain, the United States, and others have kicked out of their countries, as tensions continued to mount.
The tit-for-tat retaliation was announced on March 29 by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and comes hours after a ministry spokeswoman said measures would be “unveiled shortly” to counter action taken by the West, according to RFE/RL.
More than 150 Russian diplomats have been expelled by Britain, the United States, NATO, many European Union countries, and several others that are not in the EU, including Ukraine, in response to the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.
Britain has blamed Russia for the poisoning with a nerve agent, triggering the diplomatic dispute between Moscow and Western countries.
“U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman has been summoned to our ministry, where my deputy Sergei Ryabkov is briefing him on the tit-for-tat steps against the U.S.,” Lavrov said.
“They include the expulsion of the same number of diplomats and our decision to withdraw permission for the work of the consulate general in St. Petersburg.”
The United States earlier expelled 60 Russian diplomats and ordered the shutdown of the Russian Consulate in Seattle.
The Foreign Ministry said the consulate must suspend operations within two days and that 58 U.S. diplomats in Moscow and two in Yekaterinburg will be required to leave by April 5.
“As for the rest of the countries, we will come up with a tit-for-tat response,” Lavrov added.
The U.S. State Department said it was not surprised by Russia’s expulsions but added that there was “no justiifcation” for the moves.
Spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters that “Russia should not be acting like a victim” and called its actions “regrettable.”
“It’s clear from the list provided to us that the Russian Federation is not interested in a dialogue on issues that matter to our two countries. We reserve the right to respond,” Nauert said.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the tit-for-tat expulsions marks “a further deterioration in the United States-Russian relationship.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres responded to the latest actions by saying Cold War-style precautions are “necessary again” and that he was “very concerned” by the situation.
He told reporters the atmosphere was “similar to a large extent to what we lived through during the Cold War” and called for renewed “mechanisms of communication and control to avoid escalation and make sure things would not get out of control where tensions would rise.”
The Skripals were found slumped on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury on March 4.
Moscow has denied it was behind the attack and has called on Britain to prove it did not itself poison Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter.
Both Skripals had been hospitalized since the attack in critical condition, but British health officials said on March 29 that Yulia Skripal was “improving rapidly” and was no longer in critical condition.
Her father remained in critical but stable condition, after earlier reports said chances of recovery for both appeared slim.
“I’m pleased to be able to report an improvement in the condition of Yulia Skripal. She has responded well to treatment but continues to receive expert clinical care 24 hours a day,” Christine Blanshard, medical director for Salisbury District Hospital, said on March 29.
Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer imprisoned by Moscow after being convicted of passing on information about Russian agents in various European countries, came to Britain in a 2010 spy swap.
The expulsions are just the latest in a series of tit-for-tat diplomatic moves by the United States and Russia.
The administration of President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats and closed two recreation facilities in the United States in late 2016 in retaliation for Moscow’s interference in the U.S. presidential campaign.
After the U.S. Congress passed a bill imposing new sanctions on Russia and making it harder for President Donald Trump to ease or lift existing measures, theKremlin in July 2017 ordered Washington to reduce its staff at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and consulates to 455 people, a cut of about 755, although not all were diplomats.
The United States responded by ordering Russia to vacate its consulate in San Francisco and trade annexes in Washington and New York, steps intended to produce parity in the sizes of the Russian and U.S. diplomatic missions.
With reporting by Interfax, AFP, Reuters, AP, and dpa