US President Donald Trump has ordered the expulsion of 60 Russians as the diplomatic dispute between Russia and the UK intensifies over a spy poisoning case.
Up to 16 EU countries have also announced that they will expel 31 Russian diplomats.
The US – backing up its closest ally – said on Monday it was closing the Russian consulate in Seattle in response to the attempted assassination of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.
Both are critically ill in a UK hospital after being poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent in the southern English city of Salsibury last month.
“The United States takes this action – in conjunction with our NATO allies and partners around the world – in response to Russia’s use of a military-grade chemical weapon on the soil of the United Kingdom, the latest in its ongoing pattern of destabilising activities around the world,” the White House said in a statement.
Sarah Sanders, White House press secretary, said the US and its allies want to send a message to Russia that “actions have consequences”.
Many of the Russians expelled were intelligence officials.
Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, responded by saying the US decision was “wrongful”, RIA news agency reported.
“What the United States of America do today is they are destroying the little that is left from the Russian-American relations,” he said.
The Russian embassy in the US asked Twitter followers to vote what US consulates they would close in Russia, if they could decide.
Besides the embassy in Moscow, the US has three consulates in the country.
Maria Zaharova, Russian foreign ministry spokesperson, told state TV channel Rossia1 that Russia will respond in kind to every country involved in the expulsions. She also accused the US and the UK of setting up the attack against Skripal.
Boris Johnson, Britain’s foreign secretary, said the coordinated move was “the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers ever”.
He called it an “extraordinary international response by our allies” and showed that “Russia cannot break international rules with impunity”.
Meanwhile, 16 EU member states have decided to impose various diplomatic measures against Russia. These include France, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Sweden, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Germany, Finland, Romania, and Croatia; in total they are expelling 33 Russian diplomats.
In addition, non-EU countries Norway, Albania, and Ukraine have announced the expulsion of respectively, 1, 2 and, 13 Russian diplomats.
Earlier on Monday, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania withdrew their ambassadors from Moscow and on Friday, the EU recalled the head of its permanent delegation to Russia, Markus Ederer, for consultations.
Canada said on Monday it was expelling four Russian diplomats and denying accreditation for three more in response to a “despicable, heinous and reckless” nerve agent attack earlier this month in Britain.
“The four have been identified as intelligence officers or individuals who have used their diplomatic status to undermine Canada’s security or interfere in our democracy,” Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s foreign minister, said in a statement.
Britain accuses Russia of using the nerve agent Novichok in the Salsibury attack. Last week, the UK expelled 23 Russian diplomats and their families.
Moscow denies the nerve agent claims and retaliated by forcing the same number of British embassy staff to leave Russia.
On March 4, Skripal and his daughter were found unconscious on a bench near a shopping centre in the town of Salisbury, 120km southwest of London.
They are both still in a critical condition at Salisbury Discrict Hospital.
Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer accused of spying for the UK, who was imprisoned in 2006 and later exchanged for Russian citizens accused of espionage in the US.
On March 19, representatives of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) collected samples and their results are expected to be released in a week.
According to Russian analyst and journalist Konstantin Eggert, if the results of the OPCW investigation show a Russian link, the diplomatic crisis would worsen.
“Moscow will now try to divide the EU into two camps – the radical pro-British camp and those who they would think followed the EU because of the demands for solidarity rather than out of conviction,” Eggert said.
In his opinion, the UK will also gradually escalate its measures against Russia.
“It is quite conceivable to me that quite soon there will be a British version of the Magnitsky Law and it seems that the desire to clamp down on Russian wealth in the UK is the most serious of all others over the last 15-17 years,” he said.[Source: Al Jazeera]