Tit for tat: Russia will expel US, European envoys

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Russia will expel ‘same number of diplomats’ as US, other countries who expelled Russian envoys
MOSCOW: Russia has decided to close the U.S. consulate in Saint Petersburg and expel “the same number of diplomats”, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced Thursday.
The announcement came in retaliation to the move by the U.S. and several western countries who expelled 140 Russian diplomats in an orchestrated reaction this week following the poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the U.K.
Speaking at a news conference following his meeting with UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura in Moscow, Lavrov said the U.S. Envoy to Russia John Huntsman was informed of the Russian reaction.
“They include the expulsion of the same number of diplomats and our decision to withdraw the consent to the operation of the U.S. Consulate General in Saint Petersburg,” he said.
The Russian foreign minister hinted that the Russian measures against the U.S. could go even further.
Lavrov said Moscow would not just “mirror” actions, but added that for now, this is all Russia was announcing to the world.
“Measures will be mirror but not only,” he said.
About steps against other countries who also expelled Russian diplomats, he said: “As for the rest of the countries, regarding the number of people who will leave the Russian Federation from diplomatic missions, everything is also mirror. Actually, that is all for now.”
Later, the Foreign Ministry released a statement giving details of the precise number of U.S. diplomats being expelled.
According to the statement, 58 diplomats would be expelled from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow while two others from the General Consulate in Yekaterinburg.

Reacting to the decision, the White House said it “marks a further deterioration in the United States-Russia relationship”, but added it “was not unanticipated”.
“The expulsion of undeclared Russian intelligence officers by the United States and more than two dozen partner nations and NATO allies earlier this week was an appropriate response to the Russian attack on the soil of the United Kingdom,” spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.
– OPCW meeting
“They have to leave Russia till April 5. The building of Consulate General must be freed within two days, till March 31,” it said.
The foreign minister added that Russia was convening an extraordinary meeting of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on April 4 to discuss the Skripal poisoning case.
About the OPCW meeting, he said: “We will put concrete questions that we have asked more than once in a generalized form. I hope that our Western partners will not leave an honest conversation. Otherwise, it will be another confirmation of the fact that everything that happens is instigated gross provocation.”
The minister also spoke about Syria’s Idlib, saying it remains on the agenda of the Russia-Turkey-Iran summit in Ankara.
“Concerning Idlib, the situation is not simple there as well. Hope, no serious fighting will happen as yet. This question will be one of the questions on the agenda of the summit, which will be held in Ankara on April 4”, he said.
Meanwhile, de Mistura called for taking into account the fact that 2.5 million civilians were currently in Idlib along with al Nusra militants.
“It is true, there are a lot of Nusra fighters there but we should not forget about those 2.5 million civilians. So, I believe the humanitarian aspect will be very much in demand,” he said.
About the de-escalation zones in Syria, Lavrov added: “De-escalation zones are a result of the agreement between the parties: Russia, Turkey, and Iran. The southwest zone was formed with the participation of Russia, the U.S.A., and Jordan.
“At this stage, there are no plans to expand the number of these zones.”
Syria remains locked in a devastating conflict that began in 2011 when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on demonstrators with unexpected ferocity. According to UN officials, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict.
*Anadolu Agency correspondent Michael Hernandez contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.–AA

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