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5TH LEAD 'No justification' for Russia's expulsion of diplomats, US says By Gretel Johnston and Thomas Koerbel, dpa

By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Washington/Moscow (dpa) - The United States on Thursday responded forcefully to Russia‘s decision to close the US consulate in St Petersburg and expel 60 US diplomats, saying there is "no justification" for the move.

"It appears that Russia has chosen to take the regrettable, unwarranted action to respond to our entirely justified action," said US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert. "There is no justification for the Russian response."

Nauert said the US move, announced Monday, to expel 60 Russians and close the Russian consulate in Seattle was motivated purely by the attack in Britain on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury.

Nauert spoke after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced Moscow‘s tit-for-tat response, which she said makes it clear that Russia is not interested in dialogue with the US.

"Russia is further isolating itself following the brazen chemical attack," Nauert told reporters.

In a statement, the White House added that the Russian move was "not unanticipated" and that the US would "deal with it."

Russia has adamantly denied any state involvement in the attack against Skripal and his daughter using a Russian-developed nerve agent identified as Novichok. The Russian Foreign Ministry has claimed that Britain may have perpetrated the attack.

Nauert responded to that claim by saying Russia "should not be acting like a victim."

The real victims, she said, are Skripal and his daughter along with the first responders and others who were exposed to Novichok. She added that Novichok is banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention and the attack was the first time a weapons-grade nerve agent was used outside of war.

"We take this matter very seriously," she said.

Lavrov said in addition to the US diplomats it would expel diplomats from other countries that expelled Russian diplomats in solidarity with Britain.

More than 140 Russian diplomats have been declared unwanted persons by 25 countries allied with Britain and NATO since London accused Moscow of carrying out the chemical weapon attack.

Announcements that Britain and many of its allies would expel Russians, including in some cases intelligence agents, came Monday in a coordinated response to the nerve agent attack. Britain expelled 23 diplomats, while many other European countries kicked out between one and four.

The US, however, expelled 60 Russians and said it would close the country‘s consulate in Seattle.

The US consulate in St Petersburg is to close by March 31, according to TASS, and the US ambassador is being summoned to Russia‘s Foreign Ministry.

Responding to the escalating tensions between Russia and the West, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Cold War-style precautions were becoming "necessary again."

During the Cold War, Washington and Moscow enacted a series of measures to avoid all-out war including a hotline to allow direct communication between the administrations.

The situation is "similar to a large extent to what we lived during the Cold War" and warrants the revival of "mechanisms of communication and control to avoid escalation," Guterres told reporters in New York.

The former Soviet republic of Georgia said Thursday that it was expelling a Russian diplomat as an expression of solidarity with Britain.

Georgia, which does not maintain regular diplomatic relations with Russia, has declared a Russian diplomat at the Swiss embassy in Tbilisi a persona non grata, according to a statement by the Georgian Foreign Ministry.

The hospital in the English city of Salisbury where Skripal and his daughter are being treated announced on Thursday that the girl was no longer in critical condition.

"Her father remains in a critical but stable condition," Salisbury District Hospital said in a statement.


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