The Russian government has threatened retaliation over one of the largest mass expulsions of its diplomats in history, after more than 20 countries backed action by the United Kingdom over the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Salisbury.
According to Russian state media Tass, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the government “deeply regretted” the US’s decision to expel to their diplomats, and would analyze the situation before submitting a proposal for retaliatory action to Russian President Vladimir Putin to approve.
“We already stated and reconfirm that Russia has never had any relation to this (poisoning). We will be guided by the principle of reciprocity as before,” Peskov said.
The United States announced Monday it would be expelling 60 Russian diplomats and closing the consulate in Seattle, President Donald Trump’s toughest diplomatic move against Moscow since he took office in 2017.
When the Obama administration expelled 35 diplomats over Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the Russian government told the United States to cut its diplomatic staff inside Russia by 755.
Peskov told Tass the Foreign Ministry would submit possible retaliatory measures to President Vladimir Putin for consideration, saying any final decision would lie with the Russian leader.
In response to the latest expulsion of diplomats, Russia’s United Nations representative Vasily Nebenzia accused the United States of “abusing its rights and obligations” as the host of the UN General Assembly, according to Tass.
Nebenzia said the expulsion of diplomats by the United States would hamper Moscow’s efforts at the international body.
“Of course this is a blow to our mission, but I think we’ll mobilize,” Nebenzia told Tass.
May: Mass expulsion historic
Canada, Ukraine and member states of the European Union joined the United States in expelling more than 100 Russian diplomats on Monday.
British Prime Minister Theresa May called the worldwide backlash the “the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history.”
“We have no disagreement with the Russian people who have achieved so much through their country’s great history. But President Putin’s regime is carrying out acts of aggression against our shared values,” she said Monday.
The United Kingdom and Russia have been locked in a diplomatic fight since May’s government accused Moscow of organizing the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in the UK city of Salisbury.
Skripal and his daughter Yulia were both exposed to a potentially deadly nerve agent, according to British authorities, and remain in a critical condition in hospital.
“We assess that more than 130 people in Salisbury could have been potentially exposed to this nerve agent,” May said on Monday, adding the Skripals may never fully recover from the attack.
Russia has repeatedly and strongly denied it was involved in the Salisbury attack and has even suggested the United Kingdom itself could have been behind the poisoning.
US protests Russia’s ‘destabilizing actions’
As of Tuesday morning, 13 Russian diplomats were expelled from the Ukraine, while Canada, Germany, France and Poland each expelled four.
More than a dozen other countries, including Australia, Italy and the Netherlands, have each expelled between one and three Russian diplomats or intelligence officers.
European Council President Donald Trusk wouldn’t rule out on Monday the possibility of further expulsions of diplomats in the days to come.
“We remain critical of the actions of the Russian government,” Tusk added.
The European Council has joined the United Kingdom and the United States in saying the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter was almost certainly the work of the Russian government.
Senior Trump administration officials told CNN the decision to expel the diplomats wasn’t just taken in response to the attack, but also in protest to Russia’s “steady drumbeat of destabilizing actions.”
The mass expulsion comes less than a week after US President Trump called Putin to congratulate him on his re-election as President of Russia, against the recommendations of his advisers.