Sixty American diplomats are leaving Russia on Thursday, meeting a deadline set when the Kremlin expelled them in retaliation for the U.S. expulsion of Russian diplomats. The tit-for-tat exchange is part of an international row over the poisoning of a former Russian spy in England.
"Three large buses and a minivan departed from the back gate of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow early Thursday morning," Charles Maynes reports for NPR's Newscast unit, "carrying American diplomats, their families, and the occasional family pet."
The Americans include 58 employees of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and two staff members of the consulate in the Ural city of Yekaterinburg, an industrial center that's also Russia's fourth-largest city.
Russia set the deadline for the Americans' departure after President Trump ordered 60 Russian officials to get out of the U.S. — part of a broader effort led by the U.K. to punish Moscow for the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury, England. That attempted murder included an exotic military-grade nerve agent that is seen as Russia's sole property, the U.K. has said. At the time of the attack, Skripal was a British citizen.
The Kremlin has denied being involved in the poisoning, which attracted extra suspicion as it came on the heels of other deaths of high-profile Russians in the U.K., from former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 to Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, a prominent critic of the Kremlin who died of an apparent hanging in 2013.
In addition to the expulsions, both the U.S. and Russia ordered the closures of diplomatic facilities — a Russian Consulate in Seattle and a U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg.
In seemingly all of the cases, the Russian and American diplomatic staff were declared persona non grata, meaning they can be replaced by other personnel.