Russia has responded in kind to a wave of expulsions of its diplomats and spies by Western nations over the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia in the UK.
About 25 countries have already expelled more than 150 Russians, including 60 Russian spies working under diplomatic cover in the US, and 23 in the UK.
It’s an unprecedented backlash over the Skripal saga – unseen even at the height of the Cold War – and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said the Kremlin would expel the same number of diplomats from each country in a retaliatory measure.
Lavrov added that they would also close the US consulate in St Petersburg in response to the Russian consulate in Seattle being shut down.
Of the 60 US diplomats being expelled 58 were at the US Embassy in Moscow and two at the consulate in Yekaterinburg. They must leave Russia by April 5.
After being summoned to the foreign ministry and informed of the move, the US ambassador in Moscow, Jon Huntsman, said there was “no justification” for the action, slamming Moscow for not being interested in dialogue with the United States.
“Russia should not be acting like a victim,” US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Russia’s action was “not unanticipated and the United States will deal with it”.
Mr Lavrov called the expulsions “reciprocal”.
“They include expulsion of the equivalent number of diplomats, and they include our decision to withdraw our agreement to allow the US general consulate to operate in St Petersburg.
“As for the other countries it’s also all symmetrical measures as to the number of people who will be leaving Russia from diplomatic missions.”
He said Russia was reacting to “absolutely unacceptable actions taken against us under very harsh pressure from the United States and Britain under the pretext of the so-called Skripal case”.
Mr Lavrov also accused London of “forcing everyone to follow an anti-Russian course” and “making mockery of international law”.
UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres has expressed worry that the world was approaching a situation “similar” to the Cold War with rising tensions between the US and Russia.