MOSCOW (AP) — Russia announced the expulsion of more than 150 diplomats, including 60 Americans, on Thursday and said it was closing a U.S. consulate in retaliation for the wave of Western expulsions of Russian diplomats over the poisoning of an ex-spy and his daughter in Britain, a tit-for-tat response that intensified the Kremlin’s rupture with the United States and Europe.
The Russian move came as a hospital treating Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, said the woman was improving rapidly and was now in stable condition, though her father remained in critical condition.
The Skripals were found unconscious and critically ill in the English city of Salisbury on March 4. British authorities blamed Russia for poisoning them with a military-grade nerve agent, accusations Russia has vehemently denied.
Two dozen countries, including the U.S., many EU nations and NATO, have ordered more than 150 Russian diplomats out this week in a show of solidarity with Britain — a massive action unseen even at the height of the Cold War.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at news conference Thursday that Moscow will expel the same number of diplomats from each of those countries in retaliation.
U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman was summoned to the Foreign Ministry while Lavrov was speaking, where he was handed notice that Russia is responding quid pro quo to the U.S. decision to order 60 Russian diplomats out.
In a statement, Huntsman said there was “no justification” for the move and that it shows Moscow isn’t interested in dialogue with the United States about important matters.
“Russia should not be acting like a victim,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
The Foreign Ministry said the U.S. diplomats, including 58 from the embassy in Moscow and two from the consulate in Yekaterinburg, must leave Russia by April 5. It added that the U.S. must leave its consulate in St. Petersburg no later than Saturday.
The ministry warned that if the U.S. takes further “hostile actions” against Russian missions, Russia will respond in kind.
“We invite the U.S. authorities who are encouraging a slanderous campaign against our country to come back to their senses and stop thoughtless actions to destroy bilateral relations,” it said.
Lavrov emphasized that the expulsions followed “brutal pressure” from the U.S. and Britain, which forced their allies to “follow the anti-Russian course.”
Britain’s national security adviser Mark Sedwill told reporters during a trip to Washington that the attack was part of Russia’s “hybrid warfare” that operates below the level of armed conflict.
The coordinated expulsions of Russian intelligence officers, he said, were a “coherent approach by the Western alliance to a range of aggressive Russian behavior, of which the attack in Salisbury was just the latest, obviously very acute, example.”
Lavrov said that Moscow called a meeting Wednesday of the secretariat of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to discuss the case.
Meanwhile, Salisbury NHS Trust, which oversees the hospital where the Skripals are being treated, said Thursday that 33-year-old Yulia is “improving rapidly and is no longer in a critical condition. Her condition is now stable.”
“She has responded well to treatment but continues to receive expert clinical care 24 hours a day,” said Dr. Christine Blanshard, medical director at Salisbury District Hospital.
Sergei Skripal, 66, remains in critical condition, the hospital said.
Lavrov said that Russia would seek consular access to Yulia Skripal now that she has regained consciousness.
Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer, was imprisoned after he sold secrets to British intelligence. He was released in a 2010 spy swap and moved to Britain.
Britain says he and his daughter, who was visiting from Russia, were poisoned with a nerve agent developed in Soviet times and that must have come from Russia.
Police say they were likely exposed to the poison on the door of Sergei Skripal’s suburban home in Salisbury.
About 250 British counterterrorism officers are working on the investigation, retracing the Skripals’ movements to uncover how the poison was delivered. They have searched a pub, a restaurant and a cemetery, and on Thursday cordoned off a children’s playground near the Skripal home.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday that Britain’s allegation of Russian involvement in the poisoning was a “swindle” and an “international provocation.” She said Russia continued to demand access to investigation materials, which Britain has refused to share.
Britain and its allies have dismissed previous Russian claims that they possessed that type of nerve agent.
Despite the tensions with Washington, Russia is eager for a proposed meeting of President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump.
A prominent Russian lawmaker said Moscow’s expulsion of U.S. diplomats could aid that meeting because both sides would be on an equal basis.
“It doesn’t create very happy circumstances around a prospective meeting, but this shouldn’t influence the meeting per se, the fact of it occurring,” Dmitry Novikov, deputy chairman of the foreign relations committee in the lower house of Russia’s parliament, told the Interfax news agency.
SCHENECTADY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – A big chunk of federal funding is on the way to protect religious institutions from terror attacks. It comes after anti-Semitic threats rose 57 percent in 2017.
It was early last year when a wave of bomb threats were called into Jewish Community Centers across the nation, in that time the Schenectady JCC has implemented new security measures and plans to do even more.
The Schenectady JCC takes care of nearly 400 children a day. But last year, their safety was at risk with terror threats called in at Jewish institutions across the country, including the Albany JCC that received this ominous call:
“It’s a C-4 bomb. There’s going to be a bloodbath.”
No one was harmed, but Mark Weintraub of Schenectady JCC says the threats highlighted their center’s vulnerability.
“We didn’t have any security at all and at that point we made a decision as a JCC, hook or crook, we’re going to install a security system,” Weintraub said.
Price Chopper and local foundations stepped in to outfit the building with a secure entry system, cameras, and more. Now, $60 million of federal funding has been approved to protect other religious institutions.
“The whole purpose of terror is to make us scared that we change our ways so what you see behind us is the seder is a reminder that you’re not going to break out spirit,” said Rabbi Matt Cutler
Rabbi Cutler is giving the children a lesson on Seder, the Jewish feast that marks the beginning of Passover. Despite that scary time a year ago, he says the JCC is a safe space.
Security funding this year is more than double what it was last year, something the JCC is heartened by. But, also a sign that hate exists and hardened security is necessary.
“We feel that our kids are safe and that’s most important,” Weintraub said.
NEWS10 ABC reached out to Senator Gillibrand’s office, a spokesperson said institutions will get a chance to apply for these grants and for the first time, institution outside of large metropolitan areas like New York City will have a chance to apply.
ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – The New York State Education Department is exploring a new form of testing that could help your children in the classroom.
With state tests for grades 3-8 taking place next month, some parents are hoping the NY Education Department will incorporate something new, adaptive testing.
Kim Namkoong wants the best for her three children.
As their Bethlehem School District joins others across the state in preparing for annual exams next month. Kim is one of many parents who hopes the state eventually turns to computerized adaptive testing.
“The way I think of it is it’s customized for each student.”
With each correct answer, the questions become more challenging.
They would get easier if a student answers incorrectly.
“The students who struggle on paper and pencil tests will at least feel like they are getting questions that they can manage. The students who feel like those paper and pencil tests are too easy will get questions that they will find challenging.”
Last spring, State Ed gave school districts the option to replace paper with screens. Now, adaptive testing could be the next step.”
A department official released the following statement:
“Computer-adaptive testing is something that NYSED is carefully considering for the future of State assessments administered to the general student population, but we do not have a specific timeline for its implementation.”
Some critics worry this could skew the test scores others say this is the wave of the future.
“Most importantly I want my kids to be able to succeed happily. I think we’re a little behind the ball on getting our kids ready on the computer platforms and getting them adapted to using those as tools in their life because that is really what their life is going to be about.”
State Ed spent two years revamping their learning standards.
BURLINGTON, Vt. (NEWS10) – According to a study from the University of Vermont, black and Hispanic drivers in Vermont are more likely than white motorists to be searched by police during traffic stops.
Vermont Public Radio reports the study found that black and Hispanic drivers in the state are as much as four times more likely to be searched, even though they are less likely to be found with contraband.
Colchester Police Chief Jennifer Morrison says many departments are addressing implicit bias with training.