Russia has reaffirmed its determination to retaliate against the expulsion of scores of its diplomats by Western countries but has stressed that the door to dialog “remains open.”
More than 20 Western countries, including the United States, have ordered the expulsion of dozens of Russian diplomats as part of seemingly coordinated attempts over the alleged poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter in the United Kingdom on March 4.
The UK has blamed Russia for the “attack” on Sergei Skripal, 67, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, who remain hospitalized. Moscow has denied any involvement.
On Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Moscow was resolved to retaliate the expulsions in kind but will do so at the appropriate time.
Peskov did not elaborate on the nature of the countermeasures. He only said Russia’s response would correspond to the country’s national interests.
He hoped that the states that have expelled Russian diplomats would look hard at the information that Britain claims is evidence of Russia’s involvement in the incident.
The Kremlin spokesman added that despite the hostilities, Russia was still open to dialog and that the possibility of a meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, had not been ruled out as of yet.
“At the moment, we have no information against the backdrop of the decisions [to expel Russian diplomats] on whether the US is ready to put into practice the statements made by President Trump [on a meeting with President Putin],” he said. “That depends on our American counterparts. The Russian side remains open, of course.”
Trump had earlier this month congratulated Putin on his re-election win and said the two leaders would meet soon.
‘The largest manipulation of the world public opinion’
Separately, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said British authorities were “manipulating” the world public opinion.
“This is [British Prime Minister] Theresa May’s fail. The largest manipulation of the world public opinion has been revealed, and British authorities are involved in it,” Zakharova said, Sputnik reported on Wednesday.
Earlier, Zakharova had told Russia’s NTV Channel that London and Washington had both ignored Moscow’s request to hand over a printed document pertaining to the case.
Also on Wednesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow would assess the levels of hostility from Washington and London before retaliating the expulsion of Russian diplomats, the Interfax news agency reported.
Australia backtracks on threat against Russia
Meanwhile, Australia has backtracked on a threat to boycott the 2018 Russia World Cup in response to the alleged nerve agent attack in the UK.
On Wednesday, Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told reporters in Canberra that her country had no plans to boycott the international games.
A day earlier, the Australian government announced a decision to expel two Russian diplomats in a spate of expulsions of Russian diplomatic personnel in Western countries over allegations that Moscow was behind the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter.
Bishop had said in response to direct questions then that boycotting the 2018 Russia World Cup was among “a range” of other options available to the Australia government.
Australia says it will expel two Russian diplomats over allegations that Moscow has been behind the poisoning of a former Russian double agent in the UK.
Later, however, the country’s top diplomat backtracked.
“The Australian government is not considering a boycott of the World Cup,” she told reporters on Wednesday.
“When I was asked about it yesterday, I was referring to the fact that Britain, for example, pursued an option of announcing that the Royal Family would not be attending the World Cup, but Australia is not considering a boycott,” she said.
The Australian foreign minister said the “appropriate action” against Moscow had been the expulsion of the two Russian diplomats.
“This sends a very powerful message that Russia’s actions and the responsibility that Russia must take this use of a chemical nerve agent in London will not be tolerated,” she said.
Football Federation Australia had said on Tuesday, “As things stand, all qualifying teams, including the England team, will be taking part in this FIFA event and that continues to be our intention.”