Russia has announced the expulsion of sixty American diplomats in response to a similar measure announced by the U.S. earlier this week. The Russian Foreign Ministry also announced the closing of the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg, Russia.
“US 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 US,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said today. “They include the expulsion of the same number of diplomats and our decision to withdraw consent to the work of the Consulate General in St. Petersburg.”
The Trump administration announced Monday the expulsion of sixty Russian diplomats from the U.S. Twelve of them were stationed at the United Nations in New York and forty-eight were stationed at the Russian embassy in Washington D.C. The U.S. also announced that was closing the Russian consulate in Seattle due to its proximity to a U.S. submarine base as well as Boeing headquarters.
Senior administration officials assert that the Russian officials designated for expulsion are intelligence personnel “being cloaked by diplomatic positions here in the US.” The U.S. considers them “aggressive collection personnel.” The expulsions will leave forty Russians in the U.S. by the administration’s estimates, but the fewer number will make it easier for the FBI to track, they say.
The expulsions are in response to the alleged poisoning of a Russian ex-patriot, and his daughter, now living in Salisbury, a cathedral city in Wilshire, England, about ninety miles southwest of London, earlier this month. Authorities determined that the two were suffering from exposure to a nerve agent. That nerve agent, Novichok, is a military grade substance developed in the Soviet Union during the 1970s.
The expulsions were part of a larger coordinated expulsion of fourteen European Union nations. In all, 151 Russian diplomats were expelled this week. Russia has vowed to expel the same number of diplomats from Russia from the respective nations in reciprocal measures.
“For the first time ever, a precedent [arises] in international relations of a collective act of punishment of a country without proving any guilt on its part,” Ambassador Alexander Lukashevich, who represents Russia at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said today. “This is a large-scale provocation.”
Sixty-six-year-old Sergey Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia have remained hospitalized since March 4. Skripal’s condition is listed as critical but stable condition while Yulia’s condition is said to be “improving rapidly.” She is no longer listed in critical condition and is said to be conscious and talking authorities say.
Skripal is a former Russian intelligence officer convicted of spying for Britain in 2006. He was released in 2010 as part of a spy swap between the nations and had since been granted British citizenship.
Russia has vehemently denied any involvement in the poisoning and has suggesting that the U.K. may have poisoned Skripal in order to further isolate Russia. Skripal is “a perfect victim” Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vasily Nebenzia has called him, and Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakhrova said today that “London and Washington are the beneficiaries of this provocation.”
Those statements were dismissed by the Trump administration. “Russia should not be acting like a victim. The only victims here are the two victims in the hospital in the U.K. right now,” State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said today.
Photo: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov by British Foreign & Commonwealth Office Photostream via Flickr