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The Latest: Australia says Russia expelling 2 of its staff

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — The Latest on the fallout from the Russian ex-spy poisoning (all times local): 4:10 a.m. Australia says Russia is expelling two of its diplomats and is calling Moscow's action "disappointing."

The expulsions by Moscow are in reaction to Australia's expulsions of two Russian diplomats who the government says were undeclared intelligence officers. Australia says it acted in concert with 28 other nations expelling a total of 153 Russian diplomats in an unprecedented demonstration of global solidarity with Britain over the nerve agent attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal. Moscow denies involvement.

A joint statement by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop says there's no justification for Moscow's expulsions. It adds that the Russian government must explain how a military-grade nerve agent developed by Russia was used in Britain and why it has not been declared to the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

11:29 p.m.

Romania's foreign minister says Russia has "a very solid presence" of spies in Romania, in unusually outspoken remarks about alleged Russian espionage.

Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu said Friday: "I don't know in figures, but we can feel a very solid presence" of Russian spies.

It was the first direct comment of late made by a high-level Romanian official on the topic.

Relations between Romania and Russia, which are generally cool, strained further this week after Romania expelled one Russian diplomat over the nerve agent attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal. Russia responded in kind.

Russia's ambassador to Romania Valery Kuzmin called the expulsion of Russian diplomats "the manifestation of collective political madness," but Melescanu responded Friday that "the madness was the attack in Salisbury."

Melescanu headed Romania's foreign espionage agency from 2012 to 2014.

10:30 p.m.

Russia's Foreign Ministry says a plane belonging to the state airline Aeroflot is being searched by police at a London airport.

Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova says Friday said British authorities did not state a reason for the search, which she called "the latest provocation."

Tensions between London and Moscow are high amid the dispute over the nerve-agent poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter. Britain blames Russia for the poisoning.

Each country has expelled 23 of the other's diplomats. Russia further escalated its response on Friday, ordering Britain to reduce the number of its diplomats in Moscow to the level that Russia has in London. That number wasn't immediately clear.

Zakharova did not specify the London airport where the search was taking place, but a Heathrow-to-Moscow flight online had its expected arrival delayed by about three hours.

6:10 p.m.

Russia's Foreign Ministry has accused U.S. intelligence services of trying to recruit Russian diplomats expelled by the U.S. amid a diplomatic conflict over the poisoning of an ex-spy in Britain.

The ministry said Friday it saw a "sharp increase in provocative actions against Russian diplomats" following the U.S. decision earlier this week to order out 60 Russian diplomats.

It said American intelligence services have engaged in "frantic efforts" to make cooperation offers to the expelled diplomats. The ministry described the alleged U.S. overtures as "cynical and disgusting," adding that they have failed.

Two dozen countries ordered more than 150 Russian diplomats out in a show of solidarity with Britain over the nerve agent attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal. Moscow denies involvement and has responded in kind.

6:50 p.m.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass says his country remains "ready for dialogue" with Russia — but is underlining that expelling four Russian diplomats was the right thing to do.

Maas says Friday that Russia had expelled four German embassy staff in retaliation. He said the tit-for-tat move was "not surprising." He says "we did not take the decision on expelling the Russian diplomats lightly."

The minister says Germany's reaction to the poisoning of a former Russian intelligence officer in London "was a necessary and appropriate political signal, out of solidarity with Great Britain and because Russian has refused any clarification of the matter."

Maas said, nonetheless, Germany was ready to "work for a constructive future between our countries."

6:25 p.m.

Russia's Foreign Ministry says it has informed ambassadors of most of the countries that ordered expulsion of Russian diplomats that an equal number of their diplomats have been declared persona non grata.

A ministry statement Friday said the ambassadors were from 23 of the countries that are expelling Russians in connection with the poisoning in Britain of a former Russian double agent and his daughter. Russia on Thursday announced it was expelling 60 US diplomats and closing the consulate in St. Petersburg in retaliation for Washington's moves.

The countries informed Friday of expulsions were Australia, Albania, Germany, Denmark, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Canada, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, Finland, France, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Estonia.

It said it Russia would consider mirror expulsions of diplomats from Belgium, Hungary, Georgia and Montenegro.

The statement did not mention NATO, which is expelling seven Russians.

4:40 p.m.

Amid a Russia-West diplomatic dispute, envoys at the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg have paused for some pizza.

A van delivered more than 20 pizzas Friday to the consulate, which Moscow ordered to shut down amid the escalating diplomatic war between Russia and the West. The closure of the consulate in Russia's second-largest city mirrors the U.S. move to shut the Russian consulate in Seattle.

Two dozen countries, including the U.S. and many EU nations, and NATO ordered more than 150 Russian diplomats out this week in a show of solidarity with Britain over the poisoning of Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter that London blamed on Russia. Moscow has vehemently denied involvement in the nerve agent attack and announced the expulsion of the same number of diplomats from each nation.

4:10 p.m.

Bulgaria's prime minister says his country won't expel Russian diplomats as a response to the nerve agent attack on an ex-spy in Britain.

Boyko Borissov has said after a meeting of the government security council that his government was looking forward to more proof about the attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

The government has decided that Bulgaria should limit itself for now to full support for Britain which has already been stated at the European Council and by recalling its ambassador from Moscow for consultations.

Borissov said that Bulgaria, which currently holds the rotating European Union presidency, should keep open communication channels with Russia.

Bulgaria, once Moscow's closest ally, is still heavily dependent on Russian gas supplies, on spare parts for its Soviet-era military equipment and on sizeable revenues from the tourism industry.

3:40 p.m.

British officials say the Russian order to reduce Britain's diplomatic presence in Moscow is "regrettable" but had been anticipated.

Russia's Foreign Ministry says it has ordered Britain to reduce the number of its diplomats in Moscow to the level that Russia has in London.

A Foreign Office statement released Friday said the Russian action "doesn't change the facts" of the nerve-agent attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.

It says there is no alternative to the conclusion that the Russian state was to blame for the attempted "assassination of two people on British soil."

The Foreign Office says Russia is "in flagrant breach of international law and the Chemical Weapons Convention."

Officials refuse to discuss how many diplomats might have to be removed to comply with the Russian order.

3:05 p.m.

The Russian Foreign Ministry says it has ordered Britain to reduce the number of its diplomats in Moscow to the level that Russia has in London, firing another salvo in a diplomatic war over the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy in Britain.

The ministry said it summoned the British ambassador Friday to hand him a protest over the "provocative and unsubstantiated actions by Britain, which instigated the expulsion of Russian diplomats from various nations for no reason." It said Friday that London has a month to reduce its diplomatic personnel to the same number of diplomats that Russia has in Britain.

That number wasn't immediately clear.

Two dozen countries, including the U.S. and many EU nations, and NATO have ordered out more than 150 Russian diplomats this week in a show of solidarity with Britain over the poisoning of Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter that London blamed on Russia. Moscow has denied involvement and announced Thursday that it would expel the same number of diplomats from each nation.

2 p.m.

The Russian Foreign Ministry says it is summoning ambassadors from the countries that expelled Russian diplomats over the poisoning of an ex-spy in Britain to serve them notices about Moscow's response.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced Thursday that Moscow would expel the same number of diplomats from each of the nations that ordered Russian diplomats out. The Foreign Ministry said it was summoning ambassadors from those nations Friday to announce retaliatory measures.

Earlier this week, two dozen countries, including the U.S. and many EU nations, and NATO have expelled more than 150 Russian diplomats over the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia. A hospital treating them said Thursday the woman was improving rapidly and was now in stable condition, though her father remained in critical condition.

1:30 p.m.

The Kremlin says it remains open to normalizing ties with the U.S. and other nations despite Moscow's quid pro quo response to their expulsion of Russian diplomats over the poisoning of a Russian ex-spy in Britain.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday that Moscow was forced to retaliate after the expulsion of more than 150 Russian diplomats by two dozen countries, including the U.S. and many EU nations, and NATO. Peskov said that "Russia remains open for developing good ties."

Moscow said it would expel the same number of diplomats from each country that ordered Russian diplomats out. It summoned the U.S. ambassador to announce the closure of the American consulate in St. Petersburg and the expulsion of 60 U.S. diplomats in a tit-for-tat response to Washington's moves.

12:35 p.m.

U.S. Consulate staff in St. Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city, are preparing to wind up operations after the Russian government ordered the consulate's closure.

Russia on Thursday announced the expulsion of more than 150 diplomats, including 60 Americans, in response to mass expulsions of Russian diplomats by Western countries over the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain.

Russia also ordered the closure of the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg.

An Associated Press reporter on Friday saw consulate staff carrying boxes from the building and loading them into a van. Several mini-vans drove out of the consulate while security also detained a man who threw a paper coffee cup at the building.

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