Russian Federation summons diplomats to announce spy rift expulsions

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Tonight marks the deadline for 60 USA embassy staff to leave Russia as part of Moscow's policy of expelling foreign diplomats in a tit-for-tat response to countries across the world sending home Russian diplomats in solidarity with Britain. Other countries including Ukraine, the Netherlands, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Finland, Lithuania and Norway were also told to pull their envoys.

"Remember, this is the first time that a weapons-grade nerve agent, Novichok, has been used outside of war on allied soil".

Twenty-seven countries, mostly European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation members, have said they will send home at least 152 Russian diplomats since Monday.

In addition to the U.S. and 14 countries in the EU, Ukraine, Canada and Albania joined the effort, expelling about 100 Russians in all.

Yulia is no longer in a critical condition and is improving rapidly, doctors said on Thursday.

The Russian Embassy in Britain has complained about the alleged search of a Russian airliner that landed at London's Heathrow Airport.

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On Friday, in addition to the new Western expulsions, UK Ambassador Laurie Bristow was handed a protest note that said Britain's "provocative actions" had led to the decision by other governments to expel Russians.

"The news from Moscow comes as no surprise", Maas said in a statement.

Russian officials from President Vladimir Putin on down have maintained that Moscow had nothing to do with the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the British town of Salisbury on March 4.

"There is no justification for this response" because Russian Federation was "responsible for that horrific attack on the British citizen and his daughter", State Department spokesman Heather Nauert told reporters in Washington.

Nauert, however, said the US regretted Russia's actions, saying there was no justification whatsoever.

On Friday, Russia's Foreign Ministry summoned British Ambassador Laurie Bristow and told him that the United Kingdom had one month to cut its diplomatic contingent in Russia to the same size as the Russian mission in Britain.

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Russia denied involvement in the attack, and said it suspected that British spies were trying to frame the Kremlin to stoke anti-Russian hatred.

And 26 countries, including the USA, kicked out more than 150 Russian diplomats in response, NBC News reported.

"In the face of the grave incident in Salisbury, it is up to the Russian government to do everything it can to provide clarity and transparency and to answer legitimate questions", Von Fritsch told reporters outside the ministry in Moscow. The Russian consulate in Seattle was also closed.

Jon Huntsman, the United States ambassador to Moscow, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry to get the news, which was not unexpected.

"She has responded well to treatment but continues to receive expert clinical care 24 hours a day", said Blanshard.

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.

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