Russia’s foreign ministry has described as “hostile” and “provocative” Washington’s decision not to let a “humanitarian” flight pick up Russian diplomats who had been ordered to leave the US.
In a statement published on the ministry’s website on Wednesday, and authored by its spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, Moscow warned that the US government’s latest move was yet another blow to Russian-American bilateral relations, “which are already in a sorry state.”
According to the official, Washington refused to issue an entry permit for a special flight which was supposed to bring Russian diplomats and their families home – a move Zakharova branded “hostile.”
“The Biden administration chose to completely ignore the fact that we are essentially talking about a humanitarian action,” the diplomat claimed. She explained that the “plane was supposed to come and pick up those of our colleagues who the Department of State had earlier ordered to leave the US by the end of the month.”
Zakharova stressed that the American government’s “provocative behavior” will not go unanswered. The official added that Moscow had warned Washington in advance that, should it not allow the flight to arrive, Russia would respond, including in an asymmetrical manner.
Since the start of Russia’s offensive against Ukraine in late February, a whole host of countries, mainly in the West, have expelled a total of several hundred Russian diplomats. The Kremlin has responded in kind, showing the representatives of those countries the door.
In fact, souring relations between Washington and Moscow had seen the two nations engage in tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomatic staff for several years before the armed conflict broke out.
On multiple occasions, the US authorities have claimed that Russian diplomats had been doubling as spies – an allegation Moscow has consistently denied.
This latest episode stems from a decision made by the US Department of State in August 2021, according to which Russian diplomats, who had stayed in the country for more than three years, had to leave. Washington insisted that it was not an expulsion, but rather a tightening of rules aimed at making Russia rotate its diplomats with similar frequency to that of the US embassy in Moscow.
Russia argued that this was a mere pretext, and mirrored the newly introduced US three-year limit, ordering a number of American diplomatic staff to leave.
The first 24 Russian representatives vacated America in early September 2021.
Another 27 Russian diplomats and their families flew home on January 30, 2022.
Some 28 more embassy staff are expected to leave the US on June 30.