Striking back against the countries that had expelled its diplomats last week over the UK nerve agent poisoning furor, Russia has forcibly removed 60 US and over 50 UK embassy staff.
Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry has said that the number of UK diplomats in Russia will be approximately the same as the number of Russian diplomats in the UK.
This latest move was done in protest toward what Russia called the UK’s “provocative and absolutely unjustified actions,” referring to the coordinated effort that resulted in the removal of almost 130 Russian diplomats in different countries all over the world. This retaliatory move was due to to the poisoning via nerve agent of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. The poisoning occurred early in March in Salisbury in the UK. The Skripals are British citizens.
Laurie Bristow, the UK’s ambassador to Russia, had been called into the Foreign Ministry, where he was told of the expulsions. Twenty-five other ambassadors from different countries have also been informed of expulsions from Russia.
On Thursday, March 29, it was announced that the US consulate in St Petersburg would be closed down, and 60 diplomats were asked to leave the country. This announcement paralleled President Trump’s announcement last week that the Russian consulate in Seattle was closing, and 60 Russian envoys expelled from US soil.
The crisis brought on by the UK nerve agent attack shows no signs of abating. Russia has denied responsibility for the attack, and considers the conflict between itself and the UK and US, and not with the larger European community.
Paris and Berlin have only agreed to expel four Russian envoys each, which may be a sign that France and Germany may still wish to work with Russia. A political scientist from the Moscow State Institute for International Relations, Valery Solovei said, “The Kremlin is confident that it could reach a deal with Europe if not for the malicious influence of the U.S. and U.K..”
In 2017, Russia forcibly reduced the staff members of the US embassy by two-thirds, as a result of accusations of Russian interference over US presidential elections in 2016.
To date, both Russia and the UK have each removed 23 envoys from their countries.
US diplomats have been given until April 5 to vacate Russia. Additionally, the Kremin warned of further steps if more “hostile actions” are taken against Russian envoys in the US.
Heather Nauert, State Department spokeswoman, has has said that the US may yet take further steps against Russia, and that Russia has no right to take any retaliatory actions, since they are responsible for the attacks on the Skripals.
A few days after he congratulated Vladimir Putin for winning the Presidential elections in Russia, President Trump announced the expulsion of Russian diplomats. Mr. Trump has been praised by both Republicans and Democrats for this move against Russia.
US legislators have been critical of Mr. Trump’s friendly relations with Russia, despite evidence of the Kremlin’s interference in the US 2016 presidential elections.