Russia to Shut Down U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg, Expel Dozens of Diplomats

Russia says it will expel the same number of diplomats from U.S., other nations that expelled Russian diplomats

A view through a fence shows the building of the consulate-general of the U.S. in St. Petersburg, Russia March 29, 2018. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov

Russia will close down the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says. Russia said it will expel the same number of diplomats from the U.S. and other nations that expelled Russian diplomats.

"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," Lavrov told a briefing.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov makes a statement on the decision to expel 60 US diplomats and close its consulate in Saint Petersburg in a tit-for-tat expulsion over the poisoning of ex-double agent Sergei Skripal, in Moscow on March 29, 2018.

Earlier this week, the Russian Embassy in the United States tweeted a poll quickly after the U.S. announcement asking which U.S. consulate they should close in retaliation. Forty-seven percent of the responders said the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg should be closed.

The Russian Foreign ministry declared the 58 U.S. diplomats in Moscow and the two general consulate officers as persona non grata, and said the consulate should suspend work in two days. The U.S. diplomats should leave Russia by April 5th, the Russian Foreign Ministry said. 

Later on Wednesday, the U.S. State Department said that the expulsion of the U.S. diplomats from St. Petersburg shows that Russia is not ready for dialogue, and that the U.S. reserves the right to take further action in response. They said the U.S. is not surprised by the expulsion, but that the decision "is not justified."

On Monday, the U.S. decided to shut down its Russian consulate in Seattle and deport 60 Russian diplomats from the country. Similar announcements by Canada and over a dozen EU countries followed suit.

A senior U.S. official said that Russia "conducted an attack on America's closest ally," and that it this "cannot go unanswered." The senior official described it as part of "ongoing campaign" by Russia that must be countered. "To the Russian government we say: When you attack our friends, you face consequences."

At least 12 of the Russian diplomats who will be expelled work at the Russian mission to the United Nations in New York. According to the U.S. government, they used their diplomatic status to conduct intelligence collection on American soil. The senior official said this action will minimize Russia's ability to "use diplomatic immunity to engage in intelligence operations."

Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were found unconscious on a bench in the British city of Salisbury on March 4. British authorities say they were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent.

Police say they were likely exposed to it on the door of Sergei Skripal's suburban house in Salisbury, where the highest concentration of the chemical has been found.

Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer, was imprisoned after he sold secrets to British intelligence. He was released in a 2010 spy swap and moved to Britain.