Russia expels 60 US diplomats in tit-for-tat; US Consulate in St Petersburg to be closed

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International desk, Mar 30: Russia has expelled 60 US diplomats and closed the St Petersburg consulate in a tit-for-tat response to US action over a spy poisoning case in the UK.Russia’s foreign minister said other countries that expelled Russians could expect a “symmetrical” response.

It comes amid a row over the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in southern England.

The White House said Russia’s move to expel its diplomats had been “not unanticipated”.

It marked “a further deterioration in the United States-Russia relationship”, it said in a statement.

Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench in the city of Salisbury on 4 March, and the UK government has blamed Russia for the attack.

According to a statement by the Russian foreign ministry released on Thursday, 58 of those expelled served at the US embassy in Moscow and two at the US consulate in Yekaterinburg.

Russia also revoked the permit for the US consulate in St Petersburg – meaning it must shut down – and issued a protest note to the US ambassador to Moscow, Jon Huntsman, regarding what it called “outrageous and unwarranted” diplomatic action against Russia.

The statement said the moves were made on the “principle of reciprocity”.

The United States was quick to respond. At a press conference in Washington DC, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Russia’s actions show it is “not interested in a dialogue”.

“There is no justification for the Russian response. Our actions were motivated purely by the attack on the United Kingdom – the attack on a British citizen and his daughter,” Nauert said.

She added the US reserves the right to respond further to Russian moves against the country.

Russia has vehemently denied any role in the Salisbury attack. Mr Skripal remains in a critical but stable condition. His daughter’s condition is said to be improving.

More than 20 countries have expelled Russian envoys in solidarity with the UK. Among them is the US, which earlier this week ordered 60 diplomats to leave and closed the Russian consulate general in Seattle.