White House calls Russia's expulsion of United States diplomats a 'deterioration' in relations

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It comes after Russian diplomats in more than 20 countries have been shown the door in recent days, including across much of Europe.

"US Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman has been summoned to our ministry, where my deputy Sergei Ryabkov is briefing him on the tit-for-tat steps against the US", Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday at a press conference in Moscow.

The White House said "both leaders agreed on the importance of dismantling Russia's spy networks in the United Kingdom and the United States to curtail Russian clandestine activities and prevent future chemical weapons attacks on either country's soil".

Russia announced the expulsion of more than 150 diplomats, including 60 Americans, on Thursday and said it was closing a USA consulate in retaliation for the wave of Western expulsions of Russian diplomats over the poisoning of an ex-spy and his daughter in Britain, a tit-for-tat response that intensified the Kremlin's rupture with the United States and Europe.

The Russian foreign ministry said that 58 diplomats from the USA embassy in Moscow and two from the consulate in the city of Yekaterinburg have to leave Russia by next Thursday.

"PEPLT00008438-topic.html" class="local_link" >Jon Huntsman was invited to the Foreign Ministry, where he was handed notice that Russia is responding quid pro quo to the USA decision to order 60 Russian diplomats out.

Russian Federation has denied involvement in poisoning of the former spy and his daughter and vowed further retaliation if US moves forward with sanctions.

Russian Federation has denied involvement in the attack on the Skripals and says it suspects the British secret services are trying to frame Russian Federation.

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If further "hostile actions" against Russian diplomatic and consular offices in the USA continue, additional steps will be taken against its staff and facilities in Russia, the ministry said.

She said that the Western research into the class of nerve agent, known as Novichok, was reflected in numerous open source documents of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation members.

Yulia Skripal, 33, was left in a critical condition after the March 4 attack, but the English hospital where she was being treated said today that her condition had "rapidly improved". They will have to leave Russian Federation by April 5, according to the statement. "Rest assured, we will respond", Lavrov said earlier in the week.

He accused London of "forcing everyone to follow an anti-Russian course".

He said that Russian Federation had asked for a meeting with the executive council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on Tuesday to ask questions to "establish the truth".

Moscow warned that Huntsman's suggestion - made on Russian RBK television - that the USA could also freeze Russian state assets would lead to "further serious deterioration in our relations".

Lavrov said that Russian Federation would seek consular access to Yulia Skripal now that she has regained consciousness.

On Tuesday, NATO announced it was expelling seven diplomats from Russia's mission to the alliance.

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