Russia demands UK cut diplomatic staff

Russia demands UK cut diplomatic staff
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Russia ordered deeper cuts to the number of British diplomats in the country on Friday, further escalating the already bitter standoff between Moscow and the West.

British Ambassador Laurie Bristow was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday, where he was told that Britain must downsize its diplomatic staff in Russia to the same level that Russia has in the U.K.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the move was a further retaliatory measure for the U.K.'s expulsion of 23 Russian officials earlier this month. Moscow initially responded to that move by expelling an equal number of British diplomats.

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The additional measure by Moscow on Friday signaled the deepening crisis around the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy and his daughter with a military-grade nerve agent in southern England earlier this month.

Western officials have blamed that attack on Russia. More than two dozen countries this week moved to expel more than 150 Russian diplomats from their borders in a coordinated effort to punish Moscow for the poisonings.

The Russian government has denied any involvement in the attacks, and has blamed the U.S. for running a "colossal blackmail" campaign against Moscow.

Among the countries that expelled Russian diplomats this week was the United States, which announced that it would boot out 60 officials believed to be Russian intelligence agents and shutter the Russian consulate in Seattle.

Russia again responded, saying Thursday that it would expel 60 U.S. diplomats and close the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg, a key outpost for U.S.-Russia relations.

Moscow also said it would take similar action against other countries that expelled Russian diplomats this week. Ambassadors from at least two dozen countries were summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday and given orders to remove varying numbers of diplomats from Russia. 

— Updated at 9:46 a.m.