A Russian senator says Moscow has decided to expel 60 US diplomats from the country in retaliation for a similar move by Washington over the alleged nerve-agent poisoning of a former Russian double agent in Britain.
The remarks came after the White House announced on Monday that the US decided to shut down a Russian consulate in Seattle and deport the 60 Russian diplomats in solidarity with the UK.
The expelled Russians, 12 of whom are accredited to the UN headquarters in New York, have been given seven days to leave the US.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that “powerful forces” in the US and Britain were behind the nerve agent attack against Sergey Skripal that the British government has blamed on Moscow.
Apart from the US, 20 European countries and Canada have also deported dozens of Russian diplomats.
The Russian ambassador to Washington slammed Washington’s decision, saying it would destroy what little remained of US-Russia ties.
The Russian Embassy in the US tweeted a poll, asking for netizens’ opinion about which US consulate to close in Russia.
“US administration ordered the closure of the Russian Consulate in Seattle. What US Consulate General would you close in Russia, if it was up to you to decide,” said the mocking tweet.
The deportation of Russian diplomats is one of the most significant actions that the administration of US President Donald Trump has so far taken against Russia amid escalating tensions between the West and Moscow.
Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, were found unconscious on March 4 on a bench in the British city of Salisbury. They remain hospitalized in critical condition.
London claims the Soviet-designed Novichok nerve agent has been used to poison the pair and points the finger at Russia.
Moscow has rejected the claims as “absurd,” saying the substance used in the attack could have originated from the countries studying it, including Britain itself. It has offered cooperation with London in probing the case.
According to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Russian President Vladimir Putin will make the final decision about how Moscow would respond to the expulsions.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday that the mass expulsion of Russian diplomats from the EU, the US and Canada was a message against Russian “attempts to flout international law.”
The UK has already expelled 23 Russian diplomats over the alleged nerve attack, a move that prompted Moscow to expel 23 British diplomats.