Russia, in spy rift riposte, expels 59 diplomats from 23 countries

Monday, 02 Apr, 2018

Russia is expelling 60 USA diplomats and scores of Western envoys, a tit-for-tat retaliation in a stand-off over the poisoning of a former Russian double agent in the United Kingdom. The ministry has said it is "very concerned" about her health.

But administration officials said the hard-line response reflected Trump's view that tough action was necessary.

On March 26, the Donald Trump administration gave marching orders to 60 Russian diplomats stationed in the U.S., including 12 members of Russia's Permanent Mission to the United Nations in NY.

Georgia and Russia severed diplomatic ties after a brief war in August 2008 over the breakaway South Ossetia region, but Russian diplomats have a presence there, operating out of a Russian interests section in the Swiss embassy.

"The United States, in concert with many countries, made the decision to kick out Russian spies", said Nauert.

"What we are seeing here is the worsening of diplomatic relations, a tit-for-tat response", added Challands, describing the crisis as "severe".

"The message that is being sent is you can not use a military grade nerve agent without a response", said Jon Huntsman.

On Friday, senior envoys from most of the countries that have expelled Russian diplomats were summoned to the Russian foreign ministry, Al Jazeera's Rory Challands, reporting from Moscow, said.

After Russia announced the expulsions on Thursday evening, the US State Department said it reserved the right to respond further, saying the list of diplomats designated for expulsion by Russia showed that Moscow was not interested in diplomacy.

Britain has to reduce its diplomatic staff in Russian Federation by more than 50 more people, the foreign ministry said Saturday, following an escalating row over the nerve agent attack on a former double agent.

British authorities say a Soviet-era nerve toxin called Novichok was used in an attempt to murder the pair.

The UK government alleges that the nerve agent used in the deadly attack, Novichok, was developed in Russian Federation.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during a Toronto news conference that Russian President Vladimir Putin needs to answer for Russia's role in the nerve gas attack.

The coordinated expulsion of Russian diplomats from over a dozen Western countries earlier this week is a new low in the New Cold War, but some fear that the bottom has yet to be reached.

According to the British government, Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia were on March 4 exposed to a military-grade nerve agent in the British city of Salisbury. The illness of former Russian security agent Alexander Litvinenko is being treated as a suspected "deliberate poisoning" and police are making extensive inquiries to determine the cause, Scotland Yard said today.

It came as a hospital treating the Skripals said the woman was improving rapidly and was now in stable condition, though her father remained in 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.