The Kremlin announced on Thursday that it would expel 60 American diplomats, and probably dozens from other nations, intensifying Russia’s clash with Europe and the United States.
The action, which also includes closing the American consulate in St. Petersburg, was in retaliation for the expulsion of more than 150 Russian officials from other countries — itself a reaction to a nerve-agent attack on British soil that Britain and its allies have blamed on Moscow.
The United States ambassador to Russia, Jon M. Huntsman Jr., was summoned to the Foreign Ministry, the foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, announced. Sixty American diplomats will be expelled from Russia — the same as the number of Russian diplomats whom Washington is expelling. The Americans were given until April 5 to leave the country.
In addition, Russia plans to expel an unspecified number of diplomats from the more than 20 other countries and NATO that joined Britain and the United States in expelling Russians. Mr. Lavrov said the number would “mirror” the number of expelled Russians, which suggested that the ultimate total might rise above 150. (Britain and Russia have already each expelled 23 of the other country’s representatives.)
The crisis over the poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter has driven tensions between the Kremlin and the West to their highest pitch in decades. The tit-for-tat responses raise the prospect of further, more serious escalations, either public or clandestine.
Relations were already rocky over Moscow’s roles in the wars in Syria and Ukraine, its annexation of Crimea, its meddling in elections in the United States and elsewhere, the assassination of Kremlin foes in Russia and abroad, cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns against other countries and what Western officials have described as a broad, largely covert effort to destabilize and discredit liberal democracies.
Russia as a whole and many powerful Russians individually are already under economic sanctions by the West, and London has vowed to tighten its scrutiny and control of the vast Russian wealth — much of it held by allies of President Vladimir V. Putin — that has flowed into Britain in recent years. Britain has also said it will re-examine several suspicious deaths of Kremlin opponents.
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SOURCE: NY Times, Richard Perez-Pena