As relations between Russia and the west crash to a new post-Cold War low in the aftermath of the nerve agent attack on a former Russian double agent in the UK, Russia was set to expel British diplomats in retaliation for Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to kick out 23 Russians, while expanding its "blacklist" of US citizens in response to yesterday's Treasury sanctions, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Sputnik.
After Theresa May cast blame on Moscow - and singled out Putin as the mastermind behind the attack - giving 23 Russians who she said were spies working under diplomatic cover at the London embassy a week to leave, Russia has denied any involvement, cast Britain as a post-colonial power unsettled by Brexit, and suggested London fabricated the attack in an attempt to whip up anti-Russian hysteria.
When asked by a Reuters reporter if Russia planned to expel British diplomats from Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov smiled and said: “We will, of course.”
Separately, discussing the response to Russian sactions, Ryabkov said that "For our part, we have ensured parity in the number of individuals included in the sanctions lists from the very beginning. So we will replenish our ‘blacklist’ with another group of US individuals,” Ryabkov said.
According to the deputy minister, Russia does not want to suspend dialogue with the United States, noting that the future retaliatory measures were not Moscow’s choice.
"We're only doing this because of US political stubbornness and unwillingness to perceive reality. We may take additional steps, which we will calibrate in accordance with our own interests and, of course, the need to not suspend dialogue completely in order to at least begin stabilizing bilateral relations with Washington … We reaffirm that our resolve will not be weakened by any opponents' intrigues, many of whom are beyond the Atlantic Ocean,” Ryabkov said.
On Thursday, the US Treasury Department announced sanctions against 19 Russian individuals and five entities, including Russia's Federal Security Service and the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) for their alleged roles related to the interference in the 2016 presidential campaign in the United States.
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Meanwhile, as Reuters notes, in a sign of just how tense the relationship has become, British and Russian ministers used openly insulting language while the Russian ambassador said London was trying to divert attention from the difficulties it was having managing Britain’s exit from the European Union.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson sparked particular outrage in Moscow with his blunt comment on Thursday that “Russia should go away, it should shut up.”
In response, Russia’s Defence Ministry said Williamson was an “intellectual impotent” and Lavrov said he probably lacked education. “Well he’s a nice man, I’m told, maybe he wants to claim a place in history by making some bold statements,” Lavrov said.
“Theresa May’s main argument about Russia’s guilt is ‘Highly probable’, while for him it’s ‘Russia should go and shut up’. Maybe he lacks education, I don’t know.”
The Kremlin also got involved, when Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that "It’s shocking and unforgivable for U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal." Tass reported.
A formal announcement by Russia is expected to follow shortly.