Skripal poisoning row: Russian Federation expels diplomats from 23 countries

Russia Laurie Bristow leaves the Russian foreign ministry building in Moscow

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would expel 150 diplomats from western countries, including 60 USA diplomats, and close the U.S. consulate in Saint Petersburg in a tit-for-tat expulsion over the poisoning of the ex-double agent.

The US ambassador was also ordered to shut the consulate in St Petersburg, in Russia's retaliation for the biggest expulsion of diplomats since the Cold War. Embassy officials from France, Germany, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Croatia, Belgium, Ukraine, Sweden, Australia, Canada and the Czech Republic were all seen arriving in their official cars at the Foreign Ministry building in Moscow. Moscow has denied accusations that it was involved in the assassination attempt.

The diplomats and their families have been given one week to leave the country.

Also expelled are one Finn, one Latvian, one Swede, one Norwegian, one Romanian, one Croatian and one Irish diplomat, as well as an Estonian military attache.

Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned by the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok that British officials say was left on the door of their home in England.

Along with the said actions, Russian Federation also revoked permission for USA consulate in St Petersburg, that is to convey it to shut down.

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Mr Lavrov emphasised that the expulsions followed "brutal pressure" from the U.S. and Britain, which forced their allies to "follow the anti-Russian course".

The ministry justified the decision after "provocative and unsubstantiated actions by Britain, which instigated the expulsion of Russian diplomats from various nations for no reason".

"Russia should not be acting like a victim", she said, calling Moscow's move "regrettable" and "unwarranted".

The US, EU and other American allies punished Putin after blaming the Kremlin for the March 4 nerve agent attack in Britain on a former Russian spy-turned-double agent and his daughter.

The US said it had been expecting the move and warned it may take further action.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemns the use of chemical weapons on the territory of the United Kingdom that caused grave human suffering to three individuals and posed serious threat to the life and health of others", the ministry said in a statement late on Thursday.

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Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zaharova doubted the investigation done by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons ( OPCW) into the Skripal case.

The 23 nations that saw expulsions on Friday were nearly exclusively members of the European Union, in retaliation for a series of expulsions of Russian diplomats from the same nations earlier in the week.

"We are considering requests for consular access in line with our obligations under worldwide and domestic law, including the rights and wishes of Yulia Skripal", a Foreign Office spokeswoman told AFP.

"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.

Many other countries have expelled one or two diplomats, a move created to register support for the UK. This includes US President Donald Trump, who Putin had hoped would improve ties.

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