Russia is expelling 60 U.S. diplomats and closing the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg. This move comes as a promised act of retaliation for the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats by the United States and the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle. The announcement was made Thursday by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The United States, as well as the United Kingdom, and 24 other nations, have expelled more than 130 Russian diplomats as punishment after Russia refused to cooperate in the investigation into the poisoning of a former Russian double agent on British soil.
According to Reuters, Lavrov announced, “The measures would be reciprocal. ... They include expulsion of the equivalent number of diplomats and they include our decision to withdraw our agreement to allow the United States’ general consulate to operate in St. Petersburg.”
Fifty-eight of the expelled U.S. diplomats came from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, while the remaining two came from a consulate in the city of Yekaterinburg. There is still another American consulate in Russia, in the city of Vladivostok, that was not impacted by this.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert slammed this move by the Russians.
“It is clear from the list provided to us that the Russian Federation us not interested in dialogue on the issues that matter to our two countries,” she said. “We reserve the right to respond.”
On March 4, Col. Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a nerve agent, which was later determined to be Russian-made Novichok. The two were found slumped on a bench near a shopping center in Salisbury, England. British investigators later discovered that the two came into contact with Novichok on the front door of Skripal’s home in Salisbury.
While in the Russian military, Skripal worked as a double agent for MI6, until he was discovered by the Russian government. He was later traded in a spy swap, and sought refuge in England.
Skripal is still in critical condition, but his daughter, Yulia, regained consciousness Thursday. The hospital where the two are being treated has reported that her condition is “improving rapidly.”
Novichok was developed by the Russian government during the Cold War. British Prime Minister Theresa May demanded that the Russian ambassador to the U.K. explain how his country’s signature nerve agent ended up being used in an attack on British soil.
The Russian government responded by mocking the British investigation into Skripal’s poisoning, calling it “evidence free” and “a clear provocation.” It has also accused British intelligence of carrying out the nerve agent attack and trying to frame Russia for it.