Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov said that he had expressed strong objection over the US decision to expel Russian diplomats, adding that by this move the US destroyed what had left of bilateral relations.
"I mentioned in my statement in the State Department that I consider these actions counterproductive," Antonov said. "I said that the United States took a very bad step by cutting what very little still remains in terms of Russian-American relations."
The US government’s decision to expel dozens of Russian diplomats will have a significant impact on the Russian diplomatic mission in the United States.
"Unfortunately, we already have a bad experience of working in such crisis situations. This [expulsion] will have an impact. This is a serious blow to the quantitative and qualitative composition of the Russian embassy in Washington, DC," Antonov said. "We will take all the necessary measures, of course, in coordination with Moscow and with Moscow’s help, so that Russian citizens can calmly leave the United States on the set date."
Antonov added that the US government is expelling more than half of Russian diplomatic staff working Washington, DC.
According to the Russian ambassador, Moscow will take an adequate response to the United States' decision to expel.
"I think that the response should be adequate. Moscow will take the appropriate decision," Antonov said. "I think, even just as a citizen of the Russian Federation, that such provocative unreasonable steps cannot be left unanswered."
The US decision contradicts the recent talks between US President Trump and Russian President Putin, Antonov said, adding that the last phone conversation "brought hope" and was "constructive."
Speaking directly about the Skripal poisoning case, Antonov told reporters that there was still no evidence of Russian involvement in the Skripal case.
"I want to underline that as of today there is no single bit of evidence of Russian interference in the [Skripal] case investigation as well as of Russian involvement in the tragedy that occurred in London," Antonov said. "I want to underscore the most optimal approach to solving the so-called Skripal case is a calm, professional investigation within the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, where all interested countries are represented."
Despite the decision, Antonov expressed hope that one day relations between Moscow and Washington would be mended.
US Announces Measures Against Russian Diplomats Over Skripal Case
US President Donald Trump ordered earlier in the day the closure of the Russian Consulate in Seattle in response to the Sergei Skripal case.
"Today President Donald J. Trump ordered the expulsion of dozens of Russian intelligence officers in the United States and the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle," a senior US Administration official told reporters.
"We will require the Russian government to close its Consulate General in Seattle by April 2, 2018," the statement. said.
The official noted that all of the Russian diplomats who are being expelled from the United States are intelligence officers.
At the same time, the White House said that it was ready to hold talks with Russia if the latter "changes its behavior."
"As we have continually stressed to Moscow, the door to dialogue is open. If Russian government wants to improve relations it first needs to acknowledge its responsibility for this attack and cease its recklessly aggressive behavior," the official said.
Speaking about the Skripal poisoning case, the official noted that the United States backed the UK government's decision not to provide Moscow with samples of the nerve agent that was used against Skripal and his daughter.
"We support the United Kingdom’s decision not to provide such samples," the official told reporters.
The official also noted that Donald Trump had not spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin since Moscow was notified about the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats from the United States.
Meanwhile, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said that the twelve Russian diplomats ordered by Washington to leave the US from posts at the United Nations allegedly used their positions to spy in ways that damaged US national security.
"After a review, we have determined that the 12 intelligence operatives engaged in espionage activities that are adverse to our national security," Haley said.
US Has Been Considering the Decision For A While
Earlier in the day, CNN said, citing a source familiar with the situation, US President Donald Trump was weighing the National Security Council's recommendation to expel several Russian diplomats from the country as a response to the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal.
The outlet noted that European diplomats were receiving "optimistic signals" that Washington would expel a "significant number" of Russian diplomatic personnel.
Speaking about the US move later in the day, United Nations spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters that the United States notified the UN Secretariat in advance of the decision.
"I can confirm that the United States mission to the United Nations informed the Secretariat of its decision to take action under section 13B of the UN-US headquarters agreement with respect to certain members of the permanent mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations," Haq said. "This action may require those members to leave the country."
Haq declined further comment other than to confirm that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres "will closely follow this matter and engage as appropriate with the governments involved."
Section 13-B allows expulsions of UN diplomats for activities outside of their official duties at the UN, according to a section of the UN-US agreement that was read by Haq.
On March 24, Bloomberg reported, citing two sources with knowledge of the situation, that Trump was preparing to expel “dozens” of Russian diplomats in response to the alleged poisoning attack on Sergei Skripal.
Earlier in March, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench at a shopping mall in Salisbury, UK, after being exposed to a chemical substance. Doctors say they could suffer long-term brain damage and may never fully recover.