Rus­sia sum­mons Western diplo­mats as spy rift deep­ens

US ‘re­serves the right to re­spond fur­ther’ in tit-for-tat move


ex­pelling 60 US diplo­mats and would eject scores from other coun­tries that had joined London and Wash­ing­ton in cen­sur­ing Mos­cow over the poi­son­ing of Sergei Skri­pal and his daugh­ter Yu­lia.

Bri­tain and Rus­sia have al­ready ex­pelled 23 of each other's diplo­mats over the first known use of a mil­i­tary-grade nerve agent on Euro­pean soil since World War Two, but Lau­rie Bris­tow, Bri­tain's am­bas­sador, was sum­moned again on Fri­day.

The Rus­sian For­eign Min­istry said in a state­ment Bris­tow had been told London had just one month to cut its diplo­matic con­tin­gent in Rus­sia to the same size as the Rus­sian mis­sion in Bri­tain.

It was not im­me­di­ately clear if that meant a se­ri­ous cut in staff num­bers. A spokes­woman for the Bri­tish For­eign Of­fice said Rus­sia's re­sponse was re­gret­table and that Mos­cow was in fla­grant breach of in­ter­na­tional law over the killing of the for­mer spy.

The poi­son­ing, in south­ern Eng­land, has united much of the West in tak­ing ac­tion against what it re­gards as the hos­tile poli­cies of Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. This in­cludes US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who Putin had hoped would im­prove ties.

Rus­sia re­jects Bri­tain's ac­cu­sa­tion it stood be­hind the at­tack and has cast the al­le­ga­tions as part of an elab­o­rate Western plot to sab­o­tage East-West re­la­tions and iso­late Mos­cow.

The hospi­tal where she is be­ing treated said on Thurs­day that Yu­lia Skri­pal was get­ting bet­ter af­ter spend­ing three weeks in a crit­i­cal con­di­tion due to the nerve toxin at­tack. Her fa­ther re­mains in a crit­i­cal but sta­ble con­di­tion.

The BBC, cit­ing “sep­a­rate sources,” re­ported on Fri­day that Yu­lia was “con­scious and talk­ing.”

The Rus­sian For­eign Min­istry said in a state­ment on Fri­day it was sum­mon­ing the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of a “raft of coun­tries” that had taken what it called un­friendly ac­tion against Rus­sia in sol­i­dar­ity with Bri­tain be­cause of the Skri­pal af­fair.

“The en­voys will be handed protest notes and told about the Rus­sian side's re­tal­ia­tory mea­sures,” the min­istry said.

Em­bassy of­fi­cials from France, Ger­many, Italy, Poland, the Nether­lands, Croa­tia, Bel­gium, Ukraine, Swe­den, Aus­tralia, Canada and the Czech Repub­lic were all seen ar­riv­ing in their of­fi­cial cars at the For­eign Min­istry build­ing in Mos­cow.

The US and a range of Western coun­tries are ex­pelling around 130 Rus­sian diplo­mats and Mos­cow has said its own mea­sures will pre­cisely mir­ror those ac­tions.

Among those na­tions whose diplo­mats were shown the door were the Nether­lands, Italy, Fin­land, Poland and Lithua­nia.

Emerg­ing from the Rus­sian For­eign Min­istry build­ing, Ger­man Am­bas­sador Rudi­ger von Fritsch said Rus­sia had ques­tions to an­swer about the poi­son­ing of Skri­pal, but that Ber­lin re­mained open to di­a­logue with Mos­cow.

The US State Depart­ment said af­ter Rus­sia an­nounced the ex­pul­sions on Thurs­day evening, that it re­served the right to re­spond fur­ther, say­ing the list of diplo­mats des­ig­nated for ex­pul­sion by Rus­sia showed Mos­cow was not in­ter­ested in diplo­macy. Krem­lin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, in a con­fer­ence call with re­porters on Fri­day, dis­agreed with that as­sess­ment, say­ing that Putin still fa­vored mend­ing ties with other coun­tries, in­clud­ing with the US.

Putin dis­cussed Rus­sia's pack­age of re­tal­ia­tory mea­sures with the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil on Fri­day.

Ger­man Am­bas­sador to Rus­sia Ruedi­ger Von Fritsch ar­rives at the Rus­sian For­eign Min­istry head­quar­ters in Mos­cow on Fri­day. (AFP)

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