Moscow, Mar 30 (AFP) Russia today expelled Dutch diplomats and told Britain it had one month to reduce its diplomatic presence in the country, hitting back at EU countries after a coordinated campaign by the UK and its allies over a nerve agent attack on a former spy.
Earlier in the day Russia had summoned the ambassadors of a number of nations including Britain, France, Germany and Canada to inform them of retaliatory measures.
Dutch ambassador Renee Jones-Bos said she had been told two diplomats would be expelled.
“Two of my colleagues are leaving Moscow. But we (the embassy) are staying here,” state news agency TASS quoted her as saying.
The Russian foreign ministry also gave Britain a month to cut its number of diplomatic staff in Russia to the same as Russia has in Britain.
Moscow has already announced that it would expel 60 US diplomats and close Washington’s consulate in Saint Petersburg after the expulsion of its own diplomats and the closure of one of its US consulates.
In all, more than 150 Russian diplomats have been ordered out of the US, EU members, NATO countries and other nations in a coordinated action against Moscow, which they accuse of being involved in the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in a nerve agent attack in the English city of Salisbury on March 4.
The ambassadors had earlier been seen arriving at the Russian foreign ministry, an AFP journalist reported.
“The ambassadors will be handed protest notes and told about the Russian side’s retaliatory measures,” the foreign ministry said in a terse statement.
The ministry did not say what those steps would be, but Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday that Moscow would respond with “tit-for-tat” measures, but they might “not only” be symmetrical.
The Kremlin said Friday it was not Russia that had unleashed a diplomatic war with the West.
“Russia did not unleash any diplomatic war,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “Russia never initiated any exchange of sanctions.” “Russia has been forced to take retaliatory steps in response to hostile, illegal actions” by Washington, he said, adding that Moscow wanted “good relations” and remained open for dialogue.
Some people in Saint Petersburg said they welcomed the move.
“This is great news,” said Viktor Glushko, 60.
“It is about time. Relations will not get worse because they were never good and we will get by without them.” In Washington, the State Department said Thursday there was no justification for the Russian move and that the United States “reserves the right to respond”.
“It’s clear from the list provided to us that the Russian Federation is not interested in a dialogue on issues that matter to our two countries,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said of the expelled diplomats.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Russia’s expulsion of US diplomats marks a “further deterioration” in relations between the two countries.
Lavrov said the US Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman had been informed of “retaliatory measures”. (AFP) RUSSIA-EU-ENVOYS ABH ABH
This is published unedited from the PTI feed.