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Russia retaliates in spy case by expelling diplomats from 23 nations

March 30 (UPI) — Ambassadors from 23 nations were summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday and told their diplomatic personnel would be expelled.

The number of personnel ordered to leave Russia, in most cases by April 5, is equivalent to the number of Moscow diplomats told to leave embassies in host nations this week.

The reciprocal expulsions involve 27 nations and Russia, and are in response to the March 4 poisoning of former Russian intelligence office Sergei Skripal and his adult daughter in Salisbury, Britain.

British and U.S. leaders have accused Moscow of responsibility for the use of what’s believed to be a Russian-manufactured nerve gas against the two.

Friday’s moves came after Russia expelled 60 U.S. diplomatic staff on Thursday.

“[We] summoned the heads of diplomatic missions from Australia, Albania, Germany, Denmark, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Canada, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, Finland, France, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Estonia,” a statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry said. “They were handed notes of protest and told that the Russian Federation declares persona non grata the relevant number of diplomats from these countries … in response to their unjustified expulsions of Russian diplomats based on Britain’s proof-free accusations of Russia related to the Skripal case.”

The ministry said diplomats of Belgium, Hungary, Montenegro and Georgia — nations that “decided to join” the expulsion “at the last minute” — could similarly be affected.

Dutch Ambassador Renee Jones-Bos said she was told two diplomats would be expelled. Italy will lose two, Finland will lose one and the Czech Republic will lose three.

“This comes as no surprise,” said German ambassador Heiko Maas, adding that Berlin “did not make a hasty decision to expel Russian diplomats.”

Germany will lose four diplomats in Moscow.

“The Russian government has not answered any of the unresolved questions and has shown no willingness to play a constructive role in clarifying the circumstances of the attack,” Maas said earlier. “We continue to call upon Russia to live up to its responsibility and to fulfill its obligation to investigate the attack.”

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