Russia has expelled 60 US diplomats and announced it would eject scores from other countries that have joined London and Washington in condemning Moscow over the poisoning of a spy.
The US ambassador was also ordered to shut the consulate in St Petersburg, in Russia’s retaliation for the biggest expulsion of diplomats since the Cold War.
Last week, Western countries announced more than 100 agents were being sent home from around 20 countries in what Theresa May called the “largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history”.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday: “The measures would be reciprocal ... They include expulsion of the equivalent number of diplomats and they include our decision to withdraw our agreement to allow the United States’ general consulate to operate in St. Petersburg.”
Russia will expel the same amount as the number of their diplomats ejected from Washington earlier.
Russian intelligence officers operating in Canada, Ukraine, Norway, Macedonia and Albania, as well as across the European Union, were also expelled.
Sergei Skirpal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were found on a park bench and taken to Salisbury District Hospital after being attacked with nerve agent Novichok on March 4.
The hospital said on Thursday that Ms Skripal is “improving rapidly and is no longer in a critical condition”.
Her father Sergei remains in a critical but stable condition.
Washington indicated that it is could retaliate for Russia’s “regretable, unwarranted action,” raising the possibility that the crisis could intensify.
“We reserve the right to respond further. We’re reviewing our options,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, who charged that the attack on the Skripals violated an international chemical weapons ban. She declined to discuss what additional measures the Trump administration could take.
Ambassador Jon Hunstman was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry, a gothic skyscraper built under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, and told that 60 diplomats from US missions had a week to leave Russia, as Washington had expelled 60 Russians.
At a meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, Huntsman was also told that the U.S.consulate in St Petersburg would be closed - a like-for-like retaliation for the U.S. closure of Russia’s consulate in the U.S. city of Seattle.
The attack, which Britain has blamed on Russian President Vladimir Putin and says was caused by a Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok left on the door of their home in England, has driven relations between Russia and the West to a new post-Cold War low.
Russia has denied involvement in the attack on the Skripals and says it suspects the British secret services are trying to frame Russia to stoke anti-Russian hysteria.