Russia has announced that it is expelling sixty US diplomats and closing the American consulate in St. Petersburg.

The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the move was in a response to mirror the mass expulsion of Russian diplomats that was initiated by the US and Britain.

While the tit-for-tat expulsions may come as no surprise, the shuttering of the US consulate in Russia’s second city is an escalation during already heightened tensions.

RT reports:US ambassador to Moscow, Jon Huntsman, has been summoned to the Foreign Ministry and told the news by deputy FM Sergey Ryabkov, Lavrov said at the press conference following a meeting with the special UN envoy for Syria Staffan De Mistura.

On Monday, Washington expelled 48 Russian diplomats from the bilateral mission and 12 more from the UN mission, and shut down the Russian consulate in Seattle. Canada, Australia and a number of US allies in Europe have followed up by expelling over 90 Russian diplomats.

In addition to the mirror response to the US, Moscow will expel the equal number of diplomats from those countries, Lavrov said.

Among the US diplomats being expelled are 58 from the US Embassy in Moscow, and two officials from the General Consulate in Yekaterinburg, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced. The diplomats will have until April 5 to leave Russia. The US General Consulate in St. Petersburg is to be shut down by March 31.

“We invite the US government, which is encouraging and fanning the campaign of slander against our country, to rethink and stop these reckless actions destroying our bilateral relations,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

The expulsions of Russian diplomats began on March 14, when the UK declared 23 people personae non grata, claiming that Moscow was “highly likely” behind the alleged poisoning of former spy Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia with the chemical agent “novichok.” Russia has denied the allegations and requested the British government to provide evidence. So far, there has been none.

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert protested Russia’s “unwarranted” response against “our entirely justified action.”
“There is no justification for the Russian response,” Nauert said, describing Russia as “not serious about being a cooperative world player.”