UPDATE 2 — 3/30, 3:41 p.m. EDT: The Kremlin continued its backlash against 23 countries Friday, expelling an additional 59 diplomats from its borders after Russian envoys were told to leave numerous Western nations early this week.
Russia has also given the U.K. til the end of April to remove 23 diplomats after Prime Minister Theresa May condemned Moscow for the poisoning of an ex-GRU officer and double agent in southern England.
UPDATE — 1:30 p.m. EDT: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced Thursday the expulsion of 60 U.S. diplomats and closure of the American consulate in St. Petersburg, admittedly “retaliatory measures”.
Earlier in the week, the Trump administration ordered the equivalent number of members of Russia’s convoy out of the country in response to the poisoning of ex-Kremlin spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England.
Days after U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May condemned Moscow for the alleged poisoning of a former Russian spy on British soil, the White House announced it would expel 60 Russian diplomats from the U.S.
Announcing the measures taken in response to the alleged poisoning of former Russian intelligence agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said:
“Today, the United States began the process of expelling 12 intelligence operatives from the Russian Mission to the United Nations who have abused their privilege of residence in the United States. After a review, we have determined that the 12 intelligence operatives engaged in espionage activities that are adverse to our national security.”
In addition to banishing the emissaries, the White House has ordered the closure of the Russian Federation’s consulate office in Seattle, Wash.
“With these steps, the United States and our allies and partners make clear to Russia that its actions have consequences. The United States stands ready to cooperate to build a better relationship with Russia, but this can only happen with a change in the Russian government’s behavior,” Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters at a White House briefing.
Demonstrating a rare common loyalty, the U.S., Canada, U.K. and EU and 16 EU member nations have ordered the removal of a further 100 Russian diplomats over and above the 23 kicked out of Great Britain last week.
Across North America and Europe, Russia faces the dismissal of 135 diplomats from 21 countries. The expulsions include non-EU nations including Ukraine, which announced its intent to kick out 13 Russian diplomats.
Taking the harshest step was Luxembourg, which recalled its ambassador to Russia.
The case revolves around the March 4 attempted poisoning of Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, UK. The two were discovered on a Salisbury park bench in a state of infirmity. Investigators discovered traces of nerve agent Novichok, known to be of Russian origin.
A statement issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry blasted the decision and hinted at likely Russian retaliation for the expulsions:
“This is an attempt on the lives of Russian citizens on the territory of Great Britain. It goes without saying that this unfriendly move by this group of countries will not go unnoticed.”
Russia has denied any involvement in the matter and has pledged cooperation with British authorities probing the incident.
[Fox News] [Reuters] [BBC] [Sky News] [Photo courtesy Facebook/PA via The Daily Star]