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Russia to expel 60 U.S. diplomats in tit-for-tat response

By Sommer Brokaw and Daniel Uria
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, pictured here on the right, said Thursday that 60 U.S. diplomats will be expelled and the U.S. Consulate General in St. Petersburg will be closed in response to President Donald Trump's move to expel the same number of Russian officials earlier in the week. File Photo by Shealah Craighead/UPI
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, pictured here on the right, said Thursday that 60 U.S. diplomats will be expelled and the U.S. Consulate General in St. Petersburg will be closed in response to President Donald Trump's move to expel the same number of Russian officials earlier in the week. File Photo by Shealah Craighead/UPI | License Photo

March 29 (UPI) -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Thursday the country will expel 60 U.S. diplomats, a tit-for-tat retaliation to the U.S. expulsion of 60 Russian agents.

Under the provisions of the expulsion -- in retaliation to a U.S. announcement this week to jettison 60 Russian diplomats -- the U.S. representatives will need to leave the Consulate General in St. Petersburg by Saturday, the ministry said. The 60 diplomats, including 58 employees of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and two staff members of the Consulate General in Yekaterinburg, will have have to be out of Russia by April 5.

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"U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman has been summoned to our ministry, where my deputy Sergei Ryabkov is briefing him on the tit-for-tat steps against the U.S.," Lavrov said Thursday. "They include the expulsion of the same number of diplomats and our decision to withdraw consent to the work of the Consulate General in St. Petersburg."

The White House issued a statement saying Russia's decision to dispel the diplomats "marks a further deterioration" of the relationship between the two countries.

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"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," the White House said. "Russia's response was not unanticipated, and the United States will deal with it."

On Monday, U.S. officials ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian agents from diplomatic missions in the United States and the closing of Russia's consulate in Seattle. The U.S. move was based on the suspected nerve agent poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, earlier this month in Great Britain.

United States officials joined NATO allies in expelling Russian agents from their countries. More than 20 nations have said they will kick out Russian diplomats.

"Russia's use of a military-grade chemical weapon on the soil of the United Kingdom," was "the latest in its ongoing pattern of destabilizing activities around the world." a White House release said.

The expulsion of dozens of Russia diplomats makes "the United States safer by reducing Russia's ability to spy on Americans and to conduct covert operations that threaten America's national security, " the release continued.

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