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Diplomat expulsions result of US colossal pressure, blackmail: Russia FM

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks to the media in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on March 27, 2018. (Photo by AP)

Russia says the United States' "colossal pressure and colossal blackmail" led to a decision by more than 20 countries to expel Russian diplomatic personnel over allegations that Moscow has been behind the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain.

"They are asking for one then two diplomats, while whispering apologies into our ears, to leave this or that country. We know that this is the result of colossal pressure, colossal blackmail which is now unfortunately the main tool of Washington on the international arena," Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the media in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on Tuesday.

Numerous allies of Britain, including the United States, announced on Monday that they have ordered the expulsion of about 100 Russian diplomats as part of seemingly coordinated attempts against the Kremlin after Skripal, 67, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, were found unconscious on March 4 on a bench in the British city of Salisbury. The Skripals remain hospitalized in critical condition.

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Britain claims the Soviet-designed Novichok nerve agent has been used to poison the pair and points the finger at Russia.

Moscow has rejected the claims as “absurd,” saying the substance used in the attack could have originated from the countries studying it, including Britain itself.

Lavrov further pointed to earlier comments by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov and the foreign ministry and said, "We will respond undoubtedly, because nobody would like to tolerate such boorish behavior and we will not either."

"(They want us) to buy blind. Just like the 'buy blind' statement by [British Prime Minister] Theresa May, in a situation where these statements are simply an insult to the Anglo-Saxon, British judicial system," the top Russian diplomat added.

In a statement on Monday, Russia's Foreign Ministry said that "powerful forces" in the US and Britain were behind the nerve agent attack against Skripal that the British government has blamed on Moscow.

The Kremlin spokesman also said Russian President Vladimir Putin would make the final decision about how Moscow would respond to the expulsions.

US President Donald Trump on Monday ordered 60 Russian diplomats that Washington considers spies to leave the country in solidarity with Britain.

Senior US administration officials said all 60 Russians were spies working under diplomatic cover, including a dozen at Russia's mission to the United Nations.

The deportation of Russian diplomats is one of the most significant actions that the administration of Trump has so far taken against Russia amid escalating tensions between the West and Moscow.

The UK has already expelled 23 Russian diplomats over the alleged nerve attack, a move that prompted Moscow to expel 23 British diplomats.

Peskov said on Saturday it is extremely uncomfortable with a recent stance by European countries on the poisoning of the Skripals.

"It's a big discomfort for us to have unpredictable and aggressive counterparts. But this is the reality we have to live with," RIA news agency quoted the Kremlin spokesman as saying.

The European Union on Thursday recalled its envoy to Moscow over the nerve agent attack as several members of the bloc consider expelling Russian diplomats.

EU leaders issued a statement in Brussels, saying it is “highly likely Russia is responsible” for poisoning the Soviet-era spy and his daughter.

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