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As Russia expels US diplomats, White House says the US ‘will deal with it’

US President Donald Trump with Russian President Vladimir Putin
WASHINGTON: Russia expelled 60 US diplomats on Thursday and announced it would eject scores from other countries that have joined London and Washington in censuring Moscow over the poisoning of a spy.

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.

The White House said Moscow’s decision marked a further deterioration in the US-Russia relationship. “Russia’s response was not unanticipated and the United States will deal with it,” the White House said in a statement without elaborating.

The State Department, however, indicated earlier that the United States could retaliate for Russia’s “regrettable, unwarranted action,” raising the possibility that the crisis could intensify.

“We reserve the right to respond further. We’re reviewing our options,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, who charged that the attack on the Skripals violated an international chemical weapons ban. She declined to discuss what additional measures the Trump administration could take.

Britain has blamed Russia for the poisoning, and has been backed up by dozens of Western countries which have ordered Russian diplomats to leave. The United States charges that the 60 Russians that it targeted are intelligence officers operating under diplomatic cover.

“The United States, in concert with many countries, made the decision to kick out Russian spies,” said Nauert. “We don’t see this as a diplomatic tit-for-tat.”

Moscow denies involvement in the attack on the Skripals.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, facing a stuttering economy and an unusual show of Western unity that included even states traditionally friendly towards Moscow, appeared to have stuck to the diplomatic playbook with the symmetrical response.

Ambassador Jon Hunstman was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry, a gothic skyscraper built under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, and told that 60 diplomats from US missions had a week to leave Russia, as Washington had expelled 60 Russians.

At a meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, Huntsman was also told that the US consulate in St Petersburg would be closed — a like-for-like retaliation for the US closure of Russia’s consulate in the US city of Seattle.

“As for the other countries, everything will also be symmetrical in terms of the number of people from their diplomatic missions who will be leaving Russia, and for now that’s pretty much it,” said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

That approach will mean that, among other countries affected, France, Germany and Poland would each have four of their diplomats in Moscow sent home, Ukraine would forfeit 13 diplomats, and Denmark, Albania and Spain would each have two of their embassy staff expelled.

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

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