Russia has decided to expel 60 American diplomats and to close the St Petersburg consulate in a tit-for-tat response to US action over Sergei Skripal poisoning case in the UK.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said other countries that expelled Russians could expect a “symmetrical” response.
The move comes amid a row over the nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK.
The White House said Russia’s move to expel its diplomats had been “not unanticipated”.
It said in a statement that the move marked “a further deterioration in the United States-Russia relationship”.
Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench in the city of Salisbury on March 4, and the UK government has blamed Russia for the attack and decided to expel 23 Russian diplomats.
Russia has vehemently denied any role in the attack. Sergei Skripal remains in a critical but stable condition. Yulia Skripal’s condition is said to be improving.
Following the attack, more than 20 countries have expelled Russian envoys in solidarity with the UK. Among them is the US, which earlier this week ordered 60 diplomats to leave and closed the Russian consulate general in Seattle.
Russia declared 58 US diplomats in Moscow and two in Yekaterinburg to be “personae non gratae”.
Sergei Lavrov said US ambassador Jon Huntsman had been informed of the “retaliatory measures”.
Later, a state department spokeswoman said the US reserved the right to take further action.
Sergei Lavrov also accused Britain of “forcing everyone to follow an anti-Russian course”.
He said Moscow was responding to “absolutely unacceptable actions that are taken against us under very harsh pressure from the United States and Britain under the pretext of the so-called Skripal case”.
Sergei Lavrov reiterated Russian calls for consular access to Yulia Skripal – a Russian citizen.
Russia, he said, was also seeking a meeting with leaders of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to “establish the truth”.
Following the incident in Salisbury, British PM Theresa May announced a series of sanctions, including the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats alleged to be intelligence agents.
Russia responded by expelling an equal number of UK diplomats and closing the country’s British Council.
Then – in what has been cited as the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history – more than 20 governments expelled diplomats in their countries.