Russia’s Foreign Minister has accused Washington of blackmailing other countries to join a coordinated wave of diplomat expulsions over a nerve agent attack in the U.K., warning the Kremlin would “not tolerate such impudence.”
Speaking the day after 23 Western countries announced they’d expel more than 115 Russian diplomats in a collective response to the recent attack on an ex–Russian spy and his daughter, Sergei Lavrov directed his ire at the United States, which accounted for most of the expulsions. The poisoning attempt involved a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia.
“When one or two diplomats are being expelled from this or that country, all the while whispering apologies in our ear, we know for sure that this is a result of colossal pressure, colossal blackmail, which unfortunately is Washington’s main tool now in the international arena,” he said.
“It is hard to escape a conclusion that we were right when we stressed several times that there remain few independent countries in the modern world, modern Europe.”
Moscow has yet to announce how it will respond to the move, believed to be one of the biggest blows to Russian intelligence capabilities in the West since the Cold War. But officials have indicated that reciprocal expulsions are likely.
“We already stated and reconfirm that Russia has never had any relation to this [attack]. We will be guided by the principle of reciprocity as before,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to state-run news agency Tass.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called Tuesday for “a tough response,” but said Moscow remained open to dialogue with Washington in the name of strategic security.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova vowed that an “adequate response” would be forthcoming, and repeated calls for Britain to share information on the March 4 nerve attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter.
“Perhaps this data is not being made public because it includes nothing but political slogans,” Zakharova said.
Washington unveiled the harshest measures in Monday’s wave of expulsions, ordering out 60 Russian diplomats and closing Moscow’s consulate in Seattle. The announcement, which came less than a week after President Donald Trump ignored his advisers and congratulated Putin on his re-election, represented Trump’s toughest action against Moscow since he took office.
Ukraine followed suit by expelling 13 Russian diplomats, and Canada, France, Germany and Poland expelled four each. More than a dozen other European countries, as well as Australia, announced they were also expelling Russian diplomats who were alleged to be spies.
British Prime Minister Theresa May welcomed the show of solidarity, which she called “the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history.”
“We have no disagreement with the Russian people who have achieved so much through their country's great history. But President Putin’s regime is carrying out acts of aggression against our shared values,” she said Monday.
Moscow has repeatedly denied any involvement in the attack, which Britain says has left the Skripals with injuries they may not recover from, and may have exposed 130 other people to the deadly nerve agent.