Russia responds quid pro quo to diplomats’ expulsions

By: 
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

MOSCOW (AP) — 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 out of critical 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.

Lavrov added that just as he was making the statement, U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman was invited to the Foreign Ministry, where he was handed notice that Russia is responding quid pro quo to the U.S. decision to order 60 Russian diplomats out. Lavrov said Moscow will also retaliate for the U.S. decision to shut the Russian consulate in Seattle by closing the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg.

The Foreign Ministry said the U.S. diplomats, including 58 from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and two from the U.S. consulate in Yekaterinburg, must leave Russia by April 5. It added that the U.S. must leave the consulate in St. Petersburg no later than Saturday.

The ministry warned that if the U.S. takes further “hostile actions” against Russian missions, Russia will respond in kind.

“We invite the U.S. authorities who are encouraging a slanderous campaign against our country to come back to their senses and stop thoughtless actions to destroy bilateral relations,” it said.

Lavrov emphasized that the expulsions followed “brutal pressure” from the U.S. and Britain, which forced their allies to “follow the anti-Russian course.” He also noted that the job of the international chemical weapons watchdog is to determine what chemical agent was used to poison Skripal and his daughter, not verify the British conclusions. Lavrov said that Moscow called a meeting Monday of the secretariat of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to discuss the case.

Meanwhile, Salisbury NHS Trust, which oversees the hospital where the Skripals are being treated, said Thursday that 33-year-old Yulia is “improving rapidly and is no longer in a critical condition. Her condition is now stable.”

“She has responded well to treatment but continues to receive expert clinical care 24 hours a day,” said Dr. Christine Blanshard.

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