By Lawrence Audu

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin
Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin

In retaliation for a similar move by Washington, Russia has announced the expulsion of 60 US diplomats and the closure of the US Consulate in St. Petersburg ordering them to leave the country by April 5.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Thursday, that the 60 diplomats — 58 from the US mission in Moscow and two from Yekaterinburg have been declared “persona non grata” for activities “incompatible with diplomatic status.”

US Ambassador Jon Huntsman had been summoned to the Foreign Ministry to be told of the decision, Lavrov said.

Russia has been on the defensive since the UK government openly blamed Moscow for the poisoning of a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, on British soil on March 4.

More than 20 nations, including long-term allies like the United States, have backed Britain by together expelling more than 100 Russian diplomats. The US expelled 60 on Monday as part of the coordinated global response.

Russia had already been engaged in a tit-for-tat with Britain, with both countries expelling 23 diplomats each, and Russia closing some British institutions in the country.

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Russia has firmly denied responsibility for the poisoning and President Vladimir Putin has dismissed accusations his country was involved as “delirium.”

Lavrov echoed those sentiments Thursday and slammed the global expulsions of Russian diplomats as “absolutely unacceptable,” warning that Russia would retaliate.

He said those countries had been put under “the greatest pressure of the United States and the Great Britain.”

Among those that expelled Russian diplomats were major European Union economies, including Germany and France, as well as most NATO states.

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