Moscow vows to answer U.S. ‘blackmail’; NATO expels Russian staff

President Donald Trump meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the White House on May 17, 2017. Tuesday, Lavrov called the U.S. decision to expel 60 Moscow diplomats "a colossal blackmail campaign." Photo by Shealah Craighead/White House/UPI

March 27 (UPI) — A day after the Trump administration closed a Russian consulate and ordered 60 Moscow diplomats out of the United States, Kremlin officials said Tuesday they won’t tolerate what they say boils down to political “blackmail.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday called the U.S. decision, as well as similar moves by other Western governments this month, “a colossal blackmail campaign.”

“Rest assured, we will respond. The reason is that no one would like to tolerate such obnoxiousness and we won’t either,” Lavrov said. “When one or two diplomats are asked to leave this or that country, with apologies being whispered into our ears, we know for certain that this is a result of colossal pressure and colossal blackmail, which is Washington’s chief instrument in the international scene.”

The White House announced Monday it had ordered the Russian diplomats to leave — a response to the poisoning this month of a former Kremlin spy and his adult daughter in a British shopping district.

Before the U.S. expulsion, Britain ordered nearly two dozen Russian diplomats to leave. Germany followed by expelling four and Poland, Latvia and Lithuania each summoned Russian ambassadors in anticipation of additional expulsions.

On March 4, former spy and double agent Sergei Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter were found unresponsive in a British shopping district. Later tests determined they had been attacked with a nerve agent. They have been hospitalized since.

Britain, Germany, France and the United States have all laid blame for the attack on the Russian government, with some claiming President Vladimir Putin ordered the poisoning himself. Moscow, though, has repeatedly denied involvement.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg announced Tuesday the military alliance will expel seven staff members and will deny the pending accreditation request for three others.

“This sends a clear message to Russia that there are costs and consequences for its unacceptable and dangerous pattern of behavior. And it follows Russia’s lack of constructive response to what happened in Salisbury,” Stoltenberg said. “Our actions reflect the serious security concerns expressed by all Allies, and are part of the coordinated international effort to respond to Russia’s behavior.

Tuesday, Russia’s ambassador to the United States criticized the White House for the timing of the expulsions — which came just hours after a fire at a shopping center in the Siberian city of Kemerovo Monday that killed 64 people.

“On this grim day of tragedy in Kemerovo, we have seen official Washington stay emotionally deaf, indifferent and inconsiderate,” ambassador Anatoly Antonov said.

During Monday briefings, the White House issued condolences to the victims’ families.

“They have simply decided to make it even more painful. Well, gloat all you want,” Antonov said. “We shall not be provoked into an emotional outburst.

“But there will be a response.”


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