Moscow delivered on its warning that it would take retaliatory measures against the mass expulsion of Russian diplomats by 18 European Union states as well as by the United States and Canada. On March 26, the State Department announced the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats from its bilateral mission to the U.S. and its mission to the United Nations, and ordered the closure of the Russian Consulate in Seattle. The expulsion was a punitive step taken after former Russian double agent Sergey Skripal was poisoned by a nerve agent in Salisbury, the UK.
Russian FM Lavrov announced the measures against the US. "Literally in these minutes the US ambassador [Jon] Huntsman has been summoned to our ministry, where my deputy Sergey Ryabkov, articulated to him the contents of the measures in relation to the US, they include the expulsion of an analogous number of diplomats… and our decision to revoke agreement to the functioning of a general consulate in St. Petersburg. 
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a press release following the Huntsman-Ryabkov meeting saying that Huntsman had been warned that "in case of further hostile actions against Russian diplomatic missions and consulates in the United States, Russia will take additional measures against the personnel and property of the US Embassy and consulates general in Russia. It is recommended that the US authorities, who are promoting and encouraging this defamation campaign against Russia, come to their senses and stop their unreasonable actions aimed at destroying bilateral relations.
The tit for tat expulsions were preceded by harsh Russian condemnations of the original expulsions. Russian ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov condemned the measures and accused the Trump Administration of reverting to the course of the Obama Administration. Antonov also accused Washington of emotional deafness" since the measures against Moscow were taken while Russia was in mourning for the 64 victims, 41 of them children, of the fire at the Winter Cherry mall in the Siberian city of Kemerovo. "On this grim day of tragedy in Kemerovo we have seen official Washington stay emotionally deaf, indifferent and inconsiderate. They have simply decided to make it even more painful," said Antonov.
The Russian MFA called the expulsion of Russian diplomats by Western countries a "provocative gesture of the so-called solidarity of these countries with London." Furthermore, the Russian MFA accused London of having initiated a worldwide campaign to spread the "presumption of Russia’s guilt."
Commenting on the U.S. measures, Moscow-based Russian Strategic Studies Institute (RISS) expert, Igor Pshenichnikov, said that Washington is joining the "theater of the absurd" and the "circus" orchestrated by London in the international arena, while pushing the situation into a dead end.
Below are official reactions to the expulsion of Russian diplomats:
(Source: Blogs.state.gov, March 26, 2018)
Russian diplomats expelled from the UK (Source: aawsat.com)
Russian MFA: We Emphasize That The Burden Of Proof Rests Solely On The UK
The Russian MFA published in its website a communiqué, stating that UK authorities are not interested in identifying the real perpetrators of the crime in Salisbury, and accused London of being unable to ensure the safety of Russian citizens living in the UK. The communiqué also stressed that London has initiated the campaign to expel Russian diplomats from a number of countries, while disregarding Russia's requests to share the samples of the toxic agent. The MFA stated:
"The British authorities have demonstrated their inability to ensure the safety of Russian citizens more than once. The glaring examples include the poisoning of former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko, the death of businessmen Badri Patarkatsishvili and Alexander Perepelichny under unclear circumstances, the mysterious 'suicide' of Boris Berezovsky and the strangling of Berezovsky’s business partner Nikolai Glushkov, and lastly, the recent attempt on the lives and health of Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
"In the latter case, London acted contrary to all the norms of international law, ethics and even common sense. London has accused Russia of poisoning Russian citizens without providing any evidence or the complete picture of the crime. At the same time, it has provided the alleged name of the toxic agent, which has never been used in Russia, and has launched a large-scale political and media campaign against Russia. It has initiated the campaign to expel Russian diplomats from a number of countries and representative offices at international organizations and has announced a package of other sanctions. Meanwhile, it has completely disregarded our legitimate requests to share the samples of the alleged toxic agent.
"On March 16, 2018, Russia’s Investigative Committee initiated criminal proceedings regarding the attempted murder of Russian citizen Yulia Skripal and submitted a relevant request to the British side. We expect London to cooperate with us within the framework of the investigation that has been launched by the Russian legal authorities.
"The actions of the British authorities raise many questions. The British public is being kept in the dark regarding the key elements of this incident, which has been described as extremely dangerous, and the number of the people affected is kept secret. No information has been provided about the activities of Britain’s secret research facility in Porton Down near Salisbury, where chemical research was conducted. No information has been provided about Operation Toxic Dagger, an annual chemical warfare exercise conducted at the Porton Down facility together with the UK military, which was completed shortly before the Skripals’ poisoning.
"Meanwhile, London has initiated a worldwide campaign to spread the presumption of Russia’s guilt. We see a deliberate and purposeful escalation of confrontation and a demonstration of military force on Russia’s border. It is an obvious effort to undermine the political and diplomatic interaction that could lead to an objective and comprehensive investigation of the Salisbury incident.
"The analysis of all these circumstances shows that the UK authorities are not interested in identifying the real causes and the real perpetrators of the crime in Salisbury, which suggests a possible involvement of the UK intelligence services. Unless we receive convincing proof of the opposite, we will regard this incident as an attempt on the life of Russian citizens as part of a large-scale political provocation. We emphasize that the burden of proof rests solely on the UK."
(Mid.ru, March 28, 2018)
Russia's MFA Official Commentary: Britain Has De Facto Adopted A Prejudiced, Biased As Well As Hypocritical Stance
In another communiqué, the Russian MFA stated that the expulsion of the diplomats is a continuation of the West's confrontational policy towards Moscow:
"We express our strong protest in the wake of the decision taken by a number of EU and NATO member countries to expel Russian diplomats.
"We consider this as an unfriendly step that is not consistent with the goals and interests of establishing the underlying reasons and searching for the perpetrators of the incident that occurred in the town of Salisbury on March 4. The provocative gesture of the so-called solidarity of these countries with London, which blindly followed the British authorities in the so-called 'Skripal case' and which never got around to sort out the circumstances of the incident, is a continuation of the confrontational policy to escalate the situation.
"Presenting unfounded charges against Russia in the absence of explanations of what happened and refusing to engage in meaningful interaction, the British authorities have de facto adopted a prejudiced, biased as well as hypocritical stance.
"This is an attempt on the lives of Russian citizens on the territory of Great Britain. Despite our repeated requests for information addressed to London, Russia does not have any information in this regard. British allies don’t have any objective and exhaustive data and blindly follow the principle of Euro-Atlantic unity at the expense of common sense, the rules of civilized state-to-state dialogue and the principles of international law. It goes without saying that this unfriendly move by this group of countries will not go unnoticed, and we will respond to it."
(Mid.ru, March 26, 2018)
Russian FM Lavrov: We Will Respond, Have No Doubt About It
On the sidelines of the International High-Level Conference on Afghanistan "Peace process, security cooperation and regional connectivity," in Tashkent, Russian FM Sergey Lavrov commented on the expulsion of Russian diplomats:
Question: "When and how are we going to respond to the US and the countries of Western Europe for the expulsion of Russian diplomats?"
Lavrov: "This question has already been commented upon by Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov and the Foreign Ministry. We will respond, have no doubt about it. Such rudeness will not stand, and we will not tolerate it."
Question: "What conclusions can we draw from the sheer number of the countries that made this decision? Specifically by numbers. What does the decision to expel one diplomat, for example, mean?"
Lavrov: "The first thing that comes to mind is that we were right when we pointed out on several occasions how few countries remain independent in the modern world and in modern Europe. Second, of course, when one or two diplomats are asked to leave a particular country, and the authorities of that country are whispering an apology in our ear − we know for sure that this is the result of enormous pressure and blackmail, which, unfortunately, has become Washington's primary tool on the international arena. Whether it's this particular situation or the Palestinian issue, when they state outright that the U.S. will not allocate money to Palestine unless they agree on an idea that has not yet been articulated. That is, they suggest buying it without looking, just like they bought Prime Minister of Great Britain Theresa May’s statements in a situation where such statements were simply an insult to the Anglo-Saxon and British justice system.
"Of course, this probably reflects the desire of the ruling elite not to listen to the voice of the people. Today, I was shown the German Die Welt, which polled its readers on whether more sanctions should be imposed on Russia. Over 80 percent said no. So, direct democracy mechanisms should also be used more often.
(Mid.ru, March 27, 2018)
Russian MFA Spokesperson Zakharova: The West Announces Hostile Sanctions, While Russia Mourns The Victims in Kemerovo
Russian MFA Spokesperson Maria Zakharova wrote in her FB account:
"Today, we learned a lot about politicians from European and American countries. At this time, when all Russians are mourning the victims of the tragedy in Kemerovo, those politicians are putting more emphasis on announcing new hostile actions.
"We have always shared the grief of American and European people when misfortune came to their door. Today we heard words of condolences, but we witnessed absolutely unjustified aggression. It's hard to believe and it will be hard to forget."
(Facebook.com/maria.zakharova.167, March 26, 2018)
In an interview with the 60 Minutes program on the Rossiya-1 television channel, Zakharova added: "The baculine discipline [corporal punishment] in the European Union… We know it only too well who is behind the European Union: NATO is behind the European Union…
"The task was to demonize Russia and what we are witnessing now is part of a long-term program of unbridled Russophobia. It is a matter of not only Russia as a country, it is a matter of Russians and the Russian people."
(Tass.com, March 26, 2018)
Russian Ambassador To The U.S.: On The Grim Day Of The Tragedy In Kemerovo, Washington Stayed Emotionally Deaf, And Decided To Make It Even More Painful
During an interview, Russian ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, said:
Q: "What is your reaction to the U.S. actions against Russia?"
Antonov: "Washington's demarche gives away very troubling symptoms. Words of readiness to cooperate have gone completely separate ways with actual actions. Despite the promises, the current Administration takes the course of its predecessor. An assault on Russian official representatives and diplomatic missions – is a confrontation-provoking action. There is no excuse to it.
"The people, who are being expelled, were in charge for those few areas, which barely keep our mutually beneficial cooperation afloat: space, science, trade, culture and archival search for POW and MIA. Restoration of relations and search for points of contact have been set back.
"The scale of inflicted damage and the preceding information campaign speak of the fact that it had been planned beforehand – simply postponed for the right moment. Absence of any facts, which would support accusations of Washington and London against us, cannot but multiply suspicions of close cooperation and joint planning of the incident.
"Official representatives of the Administration have openly backed the decision to shut down Russian Consulate General in Seattle by its 'proximity to a submarine base and the largest defense contractor – Boeing'. Be it as it may, but what is the connection to the case of a poisoned British agent Sergey Skripal and his daughter?
"Washington and London are trying to shift attention from internal problems by playing the 'Russian threat card', but the problems are not going anywhere. Our opponents hate to see a strong and powerful Russia, which has recently demonstrated its capabilities.
"On this grim day of tragedy in Kemerovo we have seen official Washington stay emotionally deaf, indifferent and inconsiderate. They have simply decided to make it even more painful. Well, gloat all you want. Especially when ordinary Americans share our grief and send their condolences. Thank you, friends.
"Truth will always prevail. We shall not be provoked into an emotional outburst. But there will be a response."
(Russianembassy.org, March 26, 2018)
Konstantin Kosachev, who chairs the Federation Council's International Affairs Committee, reacted as follows:
"I propose to read the news in the following way: "The US have decided to expel 60 Russian diplomats from the country and 60 American diplomats from Russia" "The US has decided to close one Russian consular facility in the country and one American consular facility in Russia"."Poland has decided to expel four Russian diplomats from the country and four Polish diplomats from Russia". Germany, France –hereinafter it's all the same. All over [the globe]. [It has to be done) until they sober up and return to their senses. We cannot count on apologies – this unprecedentedly dirty and vile game has not been started for that". (Facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1663748267039262&id=100002123135703&pnref=story)
MP Slutsky: The Expulsions Of Diplomats Is A Blow To The International Law System
Leonid Slutsky, the chairman of the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, said:
"The decision to expel [Russian] diplomats from a series of EU countries and the US, based on solidarity with Great Britain, in terms of its unprecedented political hostility constitutes an -Russian plot. There final results concerning Skripal's case are not in, but Russia is considered guilty not only by Britain, but by its allies in Europe and America. This is an episode in a chain of anti-Russian provocations, which detonates the entire system of international law".
(Ria.ru, March 26, 2018)
MP Chepa: The Skripal Case Is A Provocation To Interfere in Russia's Domestic Policy
Alexey Chepa, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma International Affairs Committee, said:
"This is a plot. The West is disappointed by the [electoral] results, and the support provided to Putin by the Russian people. So, this plot, provocation involving Skripal, was aimed at achieving the opposite. For yet one more time, having failed to achieve internal division in our society, they are trying to deliver a blow against Russia, against its image in all international spheres in order to influence the international community."
(Ria.ru, March 26, 2018)
Russian Intellectual Lukyanov: London Is Recreating a Saddam Hussein Scenarios, Spreading Fake Accusations Against Russia
Russian intellectual Fyodor Lukyanov wrote in his Telegram channel:
"So, the multifaceted diplomatic war between Russia and the West has started. The U.S. and EU countries are expelling varying amounts of embassy staff as an act of solidarity with Great Britain. It is the first time that countries are resorting to exacerbating relations with an important partner not because of their own conflict with him, but in submission to block discipline. This has previously occurred only in a pre-war or a war situation, when obligation as an ally dictated the model of behavior. Currently, such drastic and destructive to relations action appear demonstrative and surprising. This is in light of the fact, that the Salisbury incident is profoundly obscure –publicly a suspect has not been charged exposed to a suspect, there is no crime picture nor a motive ( of course unless we consider a motive in the spirit of James Bond movies: 'Putin is a demon and loves to do eveil) …
"The Russian response is clear, as one diplomat pithily put it - 'tit for tat'. In any specific case there will a symmetrical response, which means that for a while even the major mechanisms of cooperation with specific countries and blocs of countries will likely be dysfunctional …
"Diplomacy is in crisis. Generally, diplomacy should keep communication channels open even in the thorniest moments. Yet, currently, this basic function is being denied. …
"The danger of the situation lies in the fact that - intentionally or unintentionally –a 'Saddam Hussein' scenario is unfolding against Putin and Russia. Roughly in the same categories that public opinion was prepared for the outlawing of Saddam or Qaddafi as outlaws with the following organizational conclusions [actions]. The principal difference is that by definition they can't reach the same conclusions [actions] towards Russia since it is a nuclear superpower and serves as one of the world's cornerstone countries. Yet, the atmosphere, which is being created, resembles much that of the past. Thus, all other means of coercion and pressure are inevitable. One can only imagine how it will end up. "
In another post Lukyanov wrote:
"The scale of those expelled from the US, demonstrates that we can't count on any improvement in relations or progress in the near future – we are in a state of real and full-scale Cold War, with all the ensuing consequences. Currently the main and the only goal is to minimize the risk, to prevent the conflict from deteriorating into a more acute military phase. Unfortunately, it must be acknowledged that the atmosphere resembles the atmosphere of a pre-war situation, though probably no one sets such an aim. Yet, the important thing is the potential, in the broad sense of the word, rather that intentions".