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REUTERS
March 31, 2018

Spy rift riposte: Russia expels 59 diplomats from 23 countries

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REUTERS
March 31, 2018

MOSCOW: Russia expelled 59 diplomats from 23 countries on Friday and said it reserved the right to take action against four other nations in a worsening standoff with the West over the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain.

Russia said it was responding to what it called the baseless demands for scores of its own diplomats to leave a slew of mostly Western countries. A day earlier, Moscow ordered the expulsion of 60 US diplomats and the closing of the US consulate in St Petersburg, in retaliation for the biggest ejection of diplomats since the the Cold War. Russia summoned senior envoys on Friday from most of the other countries that have expelled Russian diplomats and told them it was expelling a commensurate number of theirs.

Russia has already retaliated in kind against Britain for ejecting 23 diplomats. British ambassador Laurie Bristow was summoned again on Friday. The Russian Foreign Ministry said Bristow had been told London had just one month to cut its diplomatic contingent in Russia to the same size as the Russian mission in Britain.

During the course of Friday, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned senior embassy officials from Australia, Albania, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Croatia, Ukraine, Denmark, Ireland, Spain, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Canada and the CzechRepublic. "They (the diplomats) were handed protest notes and told that in response to the unwarranted demands of the relevant states on expelling Russian diplomats that the Russian side declares the corresponding number of staff working in those countries’ embassies in the Russian Federation persona non grata," the ministry said in a statement.

Four other countries -- Belgium, Hungary, Georgia and Montenegro -- had only "at the last moment" announced that they too were expelling Russian diplomats over the Skripal affair, and Moscow reserved the right to take retaliatory action against them too, it said.

The US State Department said after Russia announced the expulsions on Thursday evening that it reserved the right to respond further, saying the list of diplomats designated for expulsion by Russia showed Moscow was not interested in diplomacy. The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, in a conference call with reporters on Friday, disagreed with that assessment, saying that Putin still favoured mending ties with other countries, including with the United States.