Moscow has told Britain it must cut "just over 50" more of its diplomatic and technical staff in Russia in a worsening standoff over the poisoning of a Russian former spy and his daughter in England, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Saturday.
Russia has already retaliated in kind against Britain and ejected 23 British diplomats after frosty relations between London and Moscow deteriorated further over the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
London says Moscow was responsible for the attack, the first known use of a military-grade nerve agent on European soil since World War Two.
A number of other countries have also expelled Russian diplomats in solidarity with the UK.
Ireland has expelled one Russian diplomat and
Russia on Friday expelled 59 more diplomats from 23 countries – including one from Ireland – as relations between Moscow and the West continue to deteriorate to their lowest ebb since the cold war. Ireland last week decided to expell one Russian diplomat from Ireland.
The move is a continuation of the Kremlin’s retaliation for the expulsion of Russians from embassies across the West in the wake of the poisoning of the former spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury, England, earlier this month.
The Irish Ambassador in Moscow, Adrian McDaid, was summoned to the Russian foreign ministry in Moscow yesterday and informed that one Irish diplomat would be expelled from Russia in answer to the Irish expulsion of a Russian diplomat earlier this week.
We asked for parity. The Brits have 50 diplomats more than the Russians
The Irish person to leave the Moscow embassy was identified by Russia and has been given until April 9th to leave the country.
Russia flatly denies that it was involved in thepoisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia and has cast the allegations as part of an elaborate western plot to sabotage East-West relations and isolate Moscow.
The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned British Ambassador Laurie Bristow on Friday and told him London had one month to cut its diplomatic contingent in Russia to the same size as the Russian mission in Britain.
A spokeswoman for the British Foreign Office called the Russian move regrettable. She did not say how many diplomatic staff in Russia would be affected. The British Embassy in Moscow says it does not make staff numbers public.
Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Reuters the demand meant Britain would have to cut "a little over 50" more of its diplomatic and technical staff in Russia on top of the 23 diplomats who have already gone home.
“We asked for parity. The Brits have 50 diplomats more than the Russians,” Ms Zakharova said on Saturday.
When asked if that meant London would now have to cut exactly 50 diplomatic and technical staff, she said: “A little over 50.”
Britain must now decide how it wants to make the cuts and may be forced to lay off some Russian support staff as well as sending home fully-fledged diplomats to satisfy Moscow’s demand.
Britain has an embassy and an ambassador’s residence in Moscow and a consulate in the city of Yekaterinburg.
Russia ordered the closure of another British consulate, in St Petersburg, earlier this month in its first retaliatory step.
The Russian measure is similar to one Moscow used against the United States last summer to retaliate against new US sanctions when it ordered Washington to slash its diplomatic staff in Russia by nearly two thirds.
Many local Russian staffers were laid off as a result.
The March 4th poisoning in the southern English city of Salisbury has united much of the West in taking action against what it regards as the hostile policies of president Vladimir Putin.
This includes the United States under president Donald Trump, who Putin had hoped would improve ties. - Reuters