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Russia kicks out 60 US diplomats in tit-for-tat retaliation

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and U.S. President Donald Trump during a photo session of world leaders on the closing day of the 25th APEC Summit on Nov. 11, 2017 in Da Nang, Vietnam. (Metzel Mikhail/TASS/Zuma Press/TNS)

Russia said it’s expelling 60 U.S. diplomats and closing the American Consulate in St. Petersburg in a retaliatory move linked to the poisoning of a former Russian double agent in England.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the measures against the U.S. “include the expulsion of the same number of diplomats” as the Russian envoys ordered out by President Donald Trump. Other countries that recently kicked out Russian diplomats also will face mirror-image retaliation, Lavrov told reporters in Moscow on Thursday.

The measures came in a crisis over a nerve-agent attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter that the U.K. government is blaming on Russia. While the Kremlin’s action underscores the tense relations between Washington and Moscow, the use of a customary tit-for-tat response suggests that President Vladimir Putin isn’t looking to escalate the situation.

The White House didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Russia had vowed retaliation after the U.S., NATO and 25 allies including Germany and France expelled almost 130 Russian diplomats this week in support of the U.K., which kicked out 23 Kremlin envoys on March 14.

While the scale of the coordinated action was unprecedented, the decision of Paris and Berlin to limit expulsions to four diplomats each, in contrast to the 60 ordered out by the U.S., has stoked expectations in Russia that France and Germany still want to work with Putin.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov met with U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman and handed him a note of protest against the “revolting and groundless” demands from the U.S. authorities for 60 Russian diplomats to leave the country, the Foreign Ministry said on its website.

Fifty-eight U.S. diplomats will have to leave the Moscow Embassy and two at the U.S. Consulate in Ekaterinburg were declared persona non grata. They will have to leave Russia by April 5, according to the statement.

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

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© 2018 Bloomberg News

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.