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On Thursday, the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow summoned the USA ambassador to announce the expulsion of 60 US diplomats in a tit-for-tat response to Washington's move.

Russia on Friday expelled 59 diplomats from 23 countries in the aftermath of poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal at his home in Salisbury in the United Kingdom earlier this month.

Britain has to reduce its diplomatic staff in Russian Federation by more than 50 people, the foreign ministry said today, following an escalating row over an attack on a former double agent.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned earlier this week that Russia would retaliate over the mass expulsion of its diplomats by other countries, including many European Union states, which he blamed on "colossal pressure and colossal blackmail" by the United States.

The ministry justified the decision after "provocative and unsubstantiated actions by Britain, which instigated the expulsion of Russian diplomats from various nations for no reason".

The Russian Embassy in Britain has complained about the alleged search of a Russian airliner that landed at London's Heathrow Airport.

The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement that it had summoned the heads of missions from 23 countries earlier to tell them that some of their diplomats had to leave the country.

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It's a backhanded compliment to Prime Minister Theresa May, who has successfully corralled a wider worldwide coalition than anyone would have thought possible a month ago. "Russia is in flagrant breach of global law and the Chemical Weapons Convention and actions by countries around the world have demonstrated the depth of worldwide concern".

On Thursday, the hospital where the two are being treated said that Yulia, 33, was "improving rapidly and is no longer in a critical condition", while 66-year-old Sergei remained in a critical but stable condition.

"Russia did not unleash any diplomatic war", Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

"Remember, this is the first time that a weapons-grade nerve agent, Novichok, has been used outside of war on allied soil".

During the course of Friday, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned senior embassy officials from Australia, Albania, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Croatia, Ukraine, Denmark, Ireland, Spain, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Canada and the Czech Republic.

USA media showed footage of a Russian government plane on the tarmac at Washington's Dulles airport, apparently to begin ferrying the expelled Russians home. The country is heavily dependent on Russian gas supplies and tourists.

Russia's actions were in retaliation to the expulsion of 60 Russian envoys from the US during the week and the closure of Russian Consulate General in Seattle. The Russian consulate in Seattle was also closed.

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An Associated Press reporter on Friday saw consulate staff carrying boxes from the building and loading them into a van.

The Russian Foreign Ministry ran a poll on Twitter this week asking users to vote on which of the three consulates to respond against.

"This is great news", said Viktor Glushko, 60.

Others were more cautious, anxious that the closures would affect visa processing for Russians. "But the escalation is bad".

"One after another, black ambassadorial cars have been pulling up herr outside the Russian foreign ministry and the ambassadors have been walking in to essentially get a dressing-down from the foreign ministry staff and be told how many of their personnel has to be packing their bags to leave", he said.

Many other countries have expelled one or two diplomats, a move created to register support for the UK.

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