Russia expelled diplomats from 23 countries on Friday as it continued to retaliate against similar action by them over the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in the United Kingdom, BBC reported. Barring Canada and Australia, all countries on the list were European nations.
Earlier in the day, the Russian Foreign Ministry had summoned envoys from several countries to inform them of its retaliatory measures. Russia also gave the United Kingdom a months’ time to cut the number of its diplomatic staff in Moscow to the same number Russia has in the UK. Both countries have already expelled 23 of each other’s diplomats.
The United Kingdom and its allies, including the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, allege that Russia had a role in the nerve agent attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England, on March 4. Russia has repeatedly denied any role in the incident. Skripal is still in a critical but stable condition, while his daughter’s condition is improving.
Of the diplomats expelled, four were from Germany. “The news from Moscow comes as no surprise,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said, according to Reuters. “Even in the current climate, we remain ready for dialogue with Russia and we will work on both European security and constructive future relations between our countries.”
The German government’s Russia coordinator had said on Wednesday that Berlin must “do everything possible to avoid a new Cold War”. Gernot Erler said that although Germany had joined the West in expelling Russian diplomats, it must also continue a dialogue with Moscow.
On Thursday, Moscow had expelled 60 American diplomats and closed a consulate.
Over two dozen countries have expelled at least 150 Russian diplomats in the last few days, including over 100 on Monday alone. This is believed to be the largest collective expulsion of Russian diplomats in history.