Russia expels 59 diplomats from 23 countries as spy crisis escalates

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The ministry did not say what those steps would be, but Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday that Moscow would respond with "tit-for-tat" measures, but they might "not only" be symmetrical. Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova said there was no explanation given for the search, which she called "the latest provocation".

But administration officials said the hard-line response reflected Trump's view that tough action was necessary.

The US said it had been expecting the move and warned it may take further action.

Germany and Poland each said that Russian Federation was expelling four of their diplomats. The order means that a total of 150 foreign diplomats must leave embassies in Moscow.

"Sixty diplomats is tit-for-tat, but shutting down the consulate in St. Petersburg is asymmetrical and escalatory - a mirror response would have been to shut down the Vladivostok consulate". The U.K. has said the nerve agent was a so-called Novichok type of nerve agent, a type of nerve weapon developed secretly by the Soviet Union meant to be more potent and harder to detect.

In general, the numbers announced for each nation are identical to the number of Russians they expelled earlier in the week.

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 USA missions had a week to leave Russia, as Washington had expelled 60 Russians.

After the Russian government announced the expulsion of U.S. diplomats, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that Moscow "should not be acting like a victim" and that the only victims in this matter were the Skripals and other people affected in Salisbury.

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The US said Moscow's move was not justified as it was responsible for the nerve agent attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. "It was a banned substance that they have used - Novichok".

Britain's national security adviser Mark Sedwill told reporters during a trip to Washington that the attack was part of Russia's "hybrid warfare" that operates below the level of armed conflict.

German Ambassador to Russia Ruediger von Fritsch leaves the Russian foreign ministry building in Moscow, Russia March 30, 2018.

In total, 171 people are expected to leave the country, with two Russian planes laid on, one of which will make a brief stopover in NY to collect 14 families.

Sergei Skripal and his daughter have been in hospital since March 4 after being poisoned in an attack in Britain that London and its major Western allies blame on Russian Federation.

"Specialists have identified the highest concentration of the nerve agent, to date, as being on the front door of the address", Scotland Yard said in a statement.

Skripal, 66, a former Russian military intelligence officer who betrayed Russian agents to Britain and was then exchanged in a swap that included New York-based Russian spy Anna Chapman, is still hospitalized in critical condition.