Russia Expels 60 US Diplomats in Tit-for-Tat Retaliation

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Russia announced the expulsion of more than 150 diplomats, including 60 Americans, on Thursday and said it was closing a USA consulate in retaliation for the wave of Western expulsions of Russian diplomats over the poisoning of an ex-spy and his daughter in Britain, a tit-for-tat response that intensified the Kremlin's rupture with the United States and Europe.

Lavrov said Russia would take similar action with other nations that expelled Russian diplomats this week.

The U.S. has charged Russian Federation with interfering in the 2016 presidential election and of condoning chemical weapons attacks allegedly launched by the Syrian military in territory held by rebels and jihadis, two charges that the Kremlin has denied.

The 60 diplomats must leave Russian Federation by April 5, it said.

Lavrov said the US Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman had been informed of "retaliatory measures", which include "the expulsion of the equivalent number of diplomats and our decision to withdraw permission for the functioning of the US consulate general in Saint Petersburg".

Washington earlier ordered the expulsion of 60 diplomats and shut down the Russian consulate general in Seattle.

Russian Federation has already retaliated in kind after Britain initially expelled 23 diplomats.

British authorities say a Soviet-era nerve toxin called Novichok was used in an attempt to murder the pair. Why he would be targeted years later is unclear, but political and security analysts have said that the attack served as a warning to those who would cross Putin that, even in exile, they are never beyond the Kremlin's reach. Officials in Moscow accused London and Washington of pressuring other nations to sign up to an worldwide campaign of "Russophobia" which, they said, could drag the world into a new Cold War.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday that Britain's allegation of Russian involvement in the poisoning was a "swindle" and an "international provocation".

Lavrov echoed those sentiments Thursday and slammed the global expulsions of Russian diplomats as "absolutely unacceptable", warning that Russia would retaliate.

The Skripals fell critically ill after they were attacked in Salisbury with a highly toxic nerve agent on March 4.

"Specialists have identified the highest concentration of the nerve agent, to date, as being on the front door of the address", Scotland Yard said in a statement.

The health service group that administers the hospital said in a statement, "We are pleased to be able to inform you that Yulia Skripal is improving rapidly and is no longer in a critical condition".

"She has responded well to treatment but continues to receive expert clinical care 24 hours a day", said Dr. Christine Blanshard, medical director at Salisbury District Hospital. "Otherwise, that will be another confirmation that everything that is going on is a gross provocation", Lavrov said, according to Tass.

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