Russia on Thursday escalated a confrontation with Europe and the United States over the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain, saying it would expel 60 American diplomats and an unspecified number of envoys from other countries to retaliate for a mass expulsion of Russian diplomats working in the West and beyond that was ordered this week.

Furious at what it described as an anti-Russian campaign orchestrated by Washington and London, the Kremlin exceeded an equivalent response to the United States and ordered the closing of the American Consulate in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city. The consulate is bigger and far more important to relations than the Russian Consulate in Seattle, which the Trump administration ordered closed on Monday as part of its expulsion decree.

The crisis over the March 4 poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter has driven tensions between the Kremlin and the West to their
highest pitch in decades
and forced European countries like Germany that are usually wary of clashing with Moscow to choose sides. Britain contends that the poison used was a signature Russian nerve agent created by Soviet-era scientists.
Voicing alarm that the East-West confrontation was spinning out of control, the secretary general of the United Nations, António Guterres, said that the crisis recalled the Cold War, only without the controls and channels of communication established before the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union “to make sure things would not get out of control when tensions rise.”
The intensifying crisis has also put new pressure on President Trump. He has been loath to criticize Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, and, against the advice of his advisers, he avoided any mention of the March 4 nerve agent attack in Salisbury, England, when he telephoned Mr. Putin to congratulate him on his lopsided victory in Russia’s March 18 election.Continue reading the main story


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Following his practice of avoiding public criticism of Russia, Mr. Trump made no mention of the expulsions during a speech on Thursday afternoon in Ohio.
Hours later the White House issued a muted response, calling the Kremlin actions “a further deterioration” in United States-Russia relations.
“The expulsion of undeclared Russian intelligence officers by the United States and more than two dozen partner nations and NATO allies earlier this week was an appropriate response to the Russian attack on the soil of the United Kingdom,” the White House said in a statement. “Russia’s response was not unanticipated, and the United States will deal with it.”
In a sign that Russia’s political elite still retains hope that President Trump wants to take a softer line on Moscow, Vladimir Dzhabarov, deputy chairman of the international affairs committee in Russia’s upper house of Parliament, told the Interfax news agency on Thursday that Mr. Trump had been forced to expel Russian diplomats on Monday under “pressure” from unidentified foes of the Kremlin who were angry that he had congratulated Mr. Putin.
Russian politicians and state-controlled media outlets have long clung to the idea that Mr. Trump is Moscow’s friend and would like to improve relations but has been pressured into taking a tough line by what they describe as America’s “deep state,” a supposed network of hidden powers hostile to Russia and often loyal to former administrations.

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