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Russia Kicks Out Western Diplomats In Tit-For-Tat Response To U.K. Issue

By Fuad Mukhtarli April 5, 2018

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Russian FM Sergei Lavrov announcing expulsion of foreign diplomats / TASS

Russia hit back on Saturday against the west’s moves to expel nearly 150 diplomats by kicking out 60 American officials from the country and closing the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg, in what has become a tit-for-tat response to the mysterious poisoning of former Russian spy agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, March 4.

"We will respond in kind, but not only in that way. As we speak, U.S. Ambassador Mr. Huntsman has been invited to our ministry, where my deputy Sergei Ryabkov is informing him about the reciprocal measures in relation to the U.S.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

“They include the expulsion of the same number of diplomats and they also include our decision to withdraw our agreement to the functioning of the US consulate-general in St. Petersburg,” Lavrov said.

Lavrov said Moscow would also be responding in kind to the 23 European and other countries that have kicked out diplomats, in a move widely interpreted as British allies backing the move by Prime Minister Theresa May to respond to the poisoning. Twenty seven countries expelled around 150 Russian diplomats, including Ukraine and Canada. The U.S. had expelled 60 Russian diplomats and closed the Russian consulate in Seattle.

The heads of diplomatic missions from Australia, Albania, Germany, Denmark, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Canada, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, Finland, France, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Estonia were summoned to the Foreign Ministry, where they were handed letters of protest. Russia declared persona non grata the relevant number of diplomats from those countries working in diplomatic missions in Russia in response to their “unjustified expulsions” of Russian diplomats based on Britain’s “proof-free accusations” related to the Skripal case.

The ministry also said that it "reserves the right to take retaliatory measures" in relation to Belgium, Hungary, Georgia and Montenegro, countries that also joined in the coordinated expulsion of Russian diplomats.

In a similar manner to the spy poisoning scandal, Russia blamed the U.S. for harassing diplomats.

"We note a sharp rise in provocative activities against Russian diplomats in the USA. In recent days - since the announcement of the unfounded expulsion from that country of 60 employees of Russia's diplomatic establishments - American special services have been taking feverish attempts to enter into contact with them,” the ministry said.

Moscow also rebuked London for the search of a Russian Aeroflot plane at London's Heathrow airport on 30 March, describing those activities as "aggressive", "cynical" and "repulsive", saying they would fail.

"Today we have witnessed another blatant provocation by the British authorities. Such incidents happen quite rarely and are in fact extraordinary," a Russian Foreign Ministry representative said, as reported by RIA Novosti on Sunday.

More than 50 British diplomats are being thrown out of Russia as well, with the number possibly increasing to nearly 80 in total.

Despite all the back-and-forth, the Kremlin denies any role in the poisoning scandal, calling for dialogue.

“Russia initiated no diplomatic wars, and President Putin was and is a supporter of facilitating the development of good relations with all countries, including the U.S.," Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

The Kremlin hailed Austria's offer to act as a mediator between Russia and the west with regards to the ongoing diplomatic standoff.

"In the situation involving the U.K., of course, any role, any voice that could motivate our British counterparts to be sensible would be in demand," Peskov said.

Sergei Zheleznyak, a member of the State Duma, or the lower house of Russia's parliament, and its international affairs committee also praised Austria for refusing to join other western powers in expelling Russian diplomats.