White House calls Russia's expulsion of United States diplomats a 'deterioration' in relations

Jens Stoltenberg

Russian Federation has denied being responsible for an alleged nerve agent attack earlier this month that has left former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter hospitalized. After what the US has described as the first chemical weapons attack in Europe since World War II, Washington kicked out 60 Russian diplomats and closed the Russian embassy in Seattle. Other countries that recently kicked out Russian diplomats also will face mirror-image retaliation, Lavrov told reporters in Moscow on Thursday.

If further "hostile actions" against Russian diplomatic and consular offices in the US continue, additional steps will be taken against its staff and facilities in Russia, the ministry said.

A graphic published March 29 shows diplomatic measures announced against Russia by the U.S., Canada, Australia, several European Union countries and Ukraine in response to the poisoning of a former Russian double agent with military-grade nerve agent in the English town of Salisbury.

"Based on the reciprocity principle, as a retaliatory measure, 58 employees of the US Embassy in Moscow and two staff members of the Consulate-General in Yekaterinburg have been declared personae non gratae for the activities incompatible with their diplomatic status", Russia's foreign ministry said.

Lavrov said Russian Federation was reacting to "absolutely unacceptable actions that are taken against us under very harsh pressure from the United States and Britain under the pretext of the so-called Skripal case".

"As for the other countries, it's also all symmetrical measures as to the number of people who will be leaving Russian Federation from diplomatic missions, and that's all so far", Lavrov said.

Russian Federation says Britain has failed to produce any persuasive evidence of Russia's guilt.

Moscow denies any responsibility for the poisoning and Lavrov on Thursday accused Washington and London of "encouraging a slanderous campaign against our country".

On March 4, the Skripals were found unconscious on a park bench in Salisbury, England, where 66-year-old Sergei settled after being released from a Russian prison in a spy swap.

Britain has blamed Russia for the poisoning, and has been backed up by dozens of Western countries which have ordered Russian diplomats to leave.

Indeed, the measures might "not only" be symmetrical, he said.

Lavrov emphasized that the expulsions followed "brutal pressure" from the USA and Britain, which forced their allies to "follow the anti-Russian course".

Lavrov said Moscow wanted to "establish the truth" over the poisoning and accused Britain of "making mockery of global law".

After the poisoning, Britain reacted by announcing it would expel 23 Russian diplomats, suspend high-level diplomatic contact with Moscow and not send royals to the 2018 football World Cup hosted by Russia.

Lavrov said that Moscow called a meeting Wednesday of the secretariat of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to discuss the case.

"I hope our Western partners will not shun an honest conversation".

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