Russia announced on Thursday that it would move to expel the same number of diplomats from the U.S. and other countries that booted Russian officials from diplomatic postings in recent days.
The move marks the latest escalation in a diplomatic showdown between Russia and a number of other countries following the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in the United Kingdom. Western officials have blamed Moscow for that attack, though the Kremlin has denied those allegations.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, had been called to the foreign ministry on Thursday, where he was told that Moscow would respond to President Trump’s decision to expel dozens of Russian diplomats from the U.S., the Russian state-run TASS news agency reported.
Russia will also shutter the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg, Lavrov said.
He said the same retaliatory measures would also be taken against other countries that booted Russian officials from their borders, The Associated Press reported.
The State Department later confirmed the reports regarding the U.S. diplomats and the St. Petersburg consulate.
“There is no justification for the Russian response. Our actions were motivated by an attack in the United Kingdom, an attack on a British citizen and his daughter,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Thursday.
“We reserve the right to respond,” she added. “I’m not going to predict anything that could happen, but we certainly have the ability to respond.”
The move came days after Lavrov vowed retaliation for expulsions of Russian diplomats by more than two dozen countries.
Trump moved Monday to expel 60 Russian officials stationed in the U.S. and close the Russian consulate in Seattle. The move marked the largest-ever expulsion of Russian diplomats, eclipsing even the days of the Cold War.
The poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, earlier this month sent tensions between the West and Moscow soaring, with officials in Europe and the U.S. decrying Russia’s use of a nerve agent on British soil.
The Russian government has rebuffed the accusations that it was behind the poisonings and blamed the U.S. for organizing a “colossal blackmail” campaign against Moscow.
British officials have said the attack on the Skripals was carried out with a Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent.