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Kremlin: Moscow 'forced' to expel US diplomats

By Darya Tarasova and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN

    (CNN) -- Russia was "forced" to expel US diplomats in retaliation for US actions but continues to want good relations, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday, as other Western nations wait to see how Moscow will respond to a mass expulsion of its diplomats.

The United States was among more than 20 countries to announce this week that it would expel Russian diplomats in a show of international solidarity with Britain over a nerve-agent attack that the UK government has blamed on Moscow.

Russia denies any involvement in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, in the English city of Salisbury on March 4.

Russia announced Thursday that it would expel 60 US diplomats and close the US Consulate in St. Petersburg in retaliation for a similar move by Washington, which said Monday it would be expelling 60 Russian diplomats and closing the Russian Consulate in Seattle.

Moscow's action followed a warning by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that Russia would retaliate over the mass expulsion of its diplomats by other countries, including many EU states, which he blamed on "colossal pressure and colossal blackmail" by the United States.

But Peskov insisted Friday during a regular call with reporters that Moscow remained committed to diplomacy and was "never the initiator" of tit-for-tat sanctions or the expulsion of diplomats.

"Russia did not unleash any diplomatic wars. President (Vladimir) Putin was and remains a supporter of establishing and developing good relations with all countries from the very beginning, including the United States," Peskov said.

"You know that Russia was forced to take retaliatory steps in response to those unfriendly, non-constructive and unlawful actions, in this case, related to the expulsion of our diplomats and the closure of the consular post," he said, in reference to the US moves.

"Russia remains open to establishing good relations, we want these relations," Peskov said.

After the Russian government announced the expulsion of US diplomats, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that Moscow "should not be acting like a victim" and that the only victims in this matter were the Skripals and other people affected in Salisbury.

She added that it was clear the Russian government was "not interested in a dialogue on issues that matter to our two countries."

The UK hospital treating the Skripals said Thursday that Yulia Skripal, 33, was "improving rapidly" and that she was no longer in a critical condition.

"I'm pleased to be able to report an improvement in the condition of Yulia Skripal. She has responded well to treatment but continues to receive expert clinical care 24 hours a day," Dr. Christine Blanshard, medical director for Salisbury District Hospital, said in a statement.

Sergei Skripal, 66, remains in a critical but stable condition, the hospital said.

UK police said this week they believed the Skripals first came into contact with the nerve agent at Sergei Skripal's home in Salisbury.

The-CNN-Wire

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