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Russia expels EU states’ diplomats

IANS | Moscow |

Russia on Friday ordered the expulsion of diplomats from the European states in a tit-for-tat response over the expulsion of its diplomats following the poisoning of a former spy in the UK.

The measure came a day after Russia kicked out 60 US diplomats — 58 from the US mission in Moscow and two from Yekaterinburg — for activities “incompatible with diplomatic status”. It had also ordered closure of the St. Petersburg consulate, Sputnik news agency reported.

Russia has been on the defensive since the UK government blamed it for the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, on British soil on March 4. Skripal remains in a critical but stable condition but his daughter’s condition was said to be improving.

So far, 29 countries have expelled 145 Russian officials in solidarity with the UK, and NATO also ordered 10 Russians out of its mission in Belgium.

In retaliation, Moscow on Friday expelled four Polish diplomats, three diplomats each of Lithuania and the Czech Republic, two diplomats each of Italy and the Netherlands, and one diplomat each of Finland, Latvia and Sweden. Moscow also expelled one military attache of Estonia, Sputnik news agency reported.

Earlier in the day, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the ambassadors of the countries, including the UK, for “hostile actions” over the Skripal case in order to hand them notes, protest and inform of response measures over the expulsion of Russian diplomats.

Russia told the UK ambassador to reduce British diplomatic staff in Russia to equate the Russian presence in the UK. Both countries have already expelled 23 staff. Moscow had also ordered the closure of the British Council.

According to the news agency, envoys of 15 European countries, including Italy, Poland, Netherlands, Albania, Romania, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Belgium, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Croatia, Sweden, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, as well as the Australian and Canadian ambassadors were summoned.

Earlier this week, the US expelled the largest single number — 60 diplomats — and closed the Russian consulate general in Seattle. Russia retaliated on Thursday with the same move, which the US said was “expected” and warned it may take further action.