Russia to expel 60 US diplomats, close a US consulate

Monday the Trump administration announced it was expelling 60 Russian diplomats and closing a Russian consulate in Seattle. That decision was made in response to Russia’s attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal and his daughter on UK soil. A host of other countries, including France, Germany, Spain, and Canada, followed suit, each expelling a number of Russians. Today, Russia responded in kind, announcing it would expel the same number of diplomats and close the US consulate in St. Petersburg. From the Associated Press.

Two dozen countries, including the U.S., many EU nations and NATO, have ordered more than 150 Russian diplomats out this week in a show of solidarity with Britain — a massive action unseen even at the height of the Cold War.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at news conference Thursday that Moscow will expel the same number of diplomats from each of those countries in retaliation.

Lavrov added that just as he was making the statement, U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman was invited to the Foreign Ministry, where he was handed notice that Russia is responding quid pro quo to the U.S. decision to order 60 Russian diplomats out.

Lavrov said Moscow will also retaliate for the U.S. decision to shut the Russian consulate in Seattle by closing the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg…

The ministry warned that if the U.S. takes further “hostile actions” against Russian missions, Russia will respond in kind.

“We invite the U.S. authorities who are encouraging a slanderous campaign against our country to come back to their senses and stop thoughtless actions to destroy bilateral relations,” it said.

Trump took some justifiable heat for congratulating Putin on his ballot-stuffing re-election win, but when it comes to taking tough action, he hasn’t been shy about it. There is some good news today related to all of this. Yulia Skripal, the daughter of Sergei who was found unconscious with her father after exposure to nerve gas, has turned a corner in her recovery. From the BBC:

Yulia Skripal, the daughter of ex-spy Sergei Skripal, is improving rapidly and no longer in a critical condition, says the hospital treating her…

The BBC understands from separate sources that Ms Skripal is conscious and talking.

However Mr Skripal remains in a critical but stable condition, Salisbury District Hospital said.

Doctors said Ms Skripal, “has responded well to treatment but continues to receive expert clinical care 24 hours a day”.

Her father is still in critical condition. Yesterday, British authorities revealed that the nerve agent the two were exposed to was placed on Skripal’s front door. From the NY Times.

British authorities said on Wednesday that Sergei V. Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, the poison victims at the epicenter of a diplomatic crisis between Russia and the West, had been sickened with a nerve agent on the front door of Mr. Skripal’s house.

The announcement narrows the many possibilities of how the Skripals came into contact with the poison.

Detectives will focus their efforts now on Mr. Skripal’s house in the cathedral town of Salisbury, England, said Dean Haydon, senior national coordinator for counterterrorism policing, in a news release.

Today the Times adds that Sergei and Yulia were found to have each touched the door with one hand, leading to their collapse. There had been previous reports that traces of the nerve agents were found in Skripal’s car and on the table where he had been eating lunch with his daughter. Now that the exact site is known, police should be able to focus on the person responsible for delivering the agent.