The Kremlin said on Thursday that it would retaliate against the United States and other countries that expelled Russian diplomats earlier this week in response to a nerve-agent attack against a former Russian spy in the United Kingdom.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that the country will expel 60 American diplomats—the same number of Russian spies who were kicked out of the U.S.—and it will order the closure of the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg, Lavrov said. The U.S. shuttered Russia’s consulate in Seattle.
Lavrov summoned Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, to the foreign ministry in Moscow, where he informed Huntsman of the retaliation efforts.
The U.S. joined the British government in blaming the Kremlin for the nerve-agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England, earlier this month. On Monday, the Trump administration and 14 European Union nations expelled Russian diplomats from their countries. The U.K. had already kicked out 23 Russian diplomats.
Russia has denied involvement in Skripal’s poisoning and accused Great Britain of framing Moscow.
Huntsman said in a statement that there was “no justification” for Russia’s decision, while State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Russia “should not be acting like a victim.” In a statement later Thursday, the White House defended its initial decision to kick out 60 Russians and close the Seattle consulate.
“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,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said. “Russia’s response was not unanticipated, and the United States will deal with it.”
The escalating row between the two countries undercuts the White House’s stated desire to build a closer working relationship with Russia to fight against global terrorism. In January, Huntsman told lawmakers behind closed doors that the U.S.-Russia relationship would be “done” if Moscow tries to interfere in the midterm elections taking place later this year.
The Trump administration has taken heat from Capitol Hill for its hesitance to immediately implement congressionally mandated sanctions against Russia for its election interference and other foreign incursions. Earlier this month, the administration imposed sweeping new sanctions aimed at punishing Russia for meddling in the 2016 election.
Additionally, lawmakers added new financial punishments against the Kremlin into the massive spending bill that President Donald Trump signed into law last week. The Defense Department and State Department also recently approved a new lethal defensive weapons sale to Ukraine, where the military is fighting Russian-backed separatists.