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Russia Retaliates, Expels 60 American Diplomats After U.S. Action

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced Thursday that Moscow is expelling 60 U.S. diplomats.

Updated at 2:40 p.m. ET

Days after President Trump ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian officials from the United States and the closure of the Russian Consulate in Seattle in response to the nerve agent attack of a Russian ex-spy and his daughter in the U.K., Russia has responded in kind.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Thursday that Russia will expel 60 U.S. diplomats and announced the closure of the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg.

Lavrov also said Russia will respond to other countries that have expelled Russian diplomats in a "reciprocal fashion," according to Russian media.

In a statement on its web site, the Russian Foreign Ministry said U.S. Ambassador Jon Hunstman had been summoned to be told of the decision, which was was a form of protest over "the outrageous and unreasonable" U.S. moves.

U.S. representatives have until Saturday to be out of the consulate building, the statement said.

As for the 60 diplomats, 58 employees of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and two staff members of the Consulate General in the city of Yekaterinburg must leave the country by April 5, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Russia's tit-for-tat moves come after some two dozen countries and NATO have shown more than 100 Russian diplomats the door in recent days.

They are acting in solidarity with the U.K., where Sergei Skripal, a former double agent, and his daughter, Yulia, were poisoned earlier this month. Both remain hospitalized in Salisbury, where they were sickened, but on Thursday, the hospital announced that Yulia was "improving rapidly. Her father remains in critical, but stable, condition.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said it is "highly likely" Russia was behind the attack, a charge Russia denies.

Russian retaliation comes as little surprise. "Rest assured, we will respond," Lavrov said earlier in the week. "The reason is that no one would like to tolerate such obnoxiousness, and we won't either."

On Tuesday Lavrov told TASS, the Russian news agency, that the U.S. has used "colossal blackmail" to get other countries on board with expelling Russian diplomats.

Russia has already kicked out 23 British diplomats, after the U.K. expelled the same number three days earlier.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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