Russia retaliated Thursday for the recent U.S. expulsion of its diplomats and the shutdown of its consulate, while Washington threatens to respond accordingly, possibly renewing a war of mutual sanctions.
The Russian Foreign Ministry announced in a statement that it will expel 60 U.S. diplomats and close the U.S. consulate general in St. Petersburg in tit-for-tat retaliation for Washington's moves.
The ministry declared 58 employees of the U.S. embassy in Moscow and two employees of the U.S. consulate general in Yekaterinburg "persona non grata" for "activities incompatible with diplomatic status" and ordered them to leave Russia by April 5.
It also revoked the consent to the opening and functioning of the U.S. consulate general in St. Petersburg and demanded the U.S. staff there leave the administrative building by March 31.
Earlier in the day, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry and was given a note of protest over the recent U.S. expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats and the shutdown of the Russian consulate general in Seattle.
The Russian Foreign Ministry urged U.S. authorities to rethink and stop "reckless" actions that hurt bilateral relations.
The tension between Russia and Western countries sharply escalated after former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were reportedly attacked by chemical weapon and found unconscious on a bench at a shopping center in the British city of Salisbury on March 4.
Britain, the United States and many of their allies accused Moscow of launching a chemical attack against Skripal, and they concertedly expelled a large number of Russian diplomats earlier this week.
Russia categorically denies these allegations and demands solid evidence.
Moscow is expected to fight back soon against all countries that expelled Russian diplomats over the Skripal case on the principle of reciprocity.
"The measures will be mirror-like, but not just that," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday.
On Tuesday, Huntsman told RBC TV in an interview that Washington may seize Russia's assets in the United States.
"I can't tell you what our future holds. I hope we're able to steady our relationship. (But) Of course it (the asset seizure) is possible," he said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry criticized his remarks and warned that the implementation of such a threat will lead to further serious degradation in bilateral ties and thus undermine global stability.
Following Russia's announcement of the diplomats expulsion, U.S. Department of State spokesperson Heather Nauert said that Russia's moves are unjustified.
She said the United States is scrutinizing details of Russia's actions and reserves the right to respond accordingly.
If Washington continues its hostile actions against Russia, Moscow will take additional measures, the Russian Foreign Ministry warned.