Russian envoy says relations with US in crisis, retaliation likely

The Russian ambassador to the United Nations said Monday that relations between Moscow and Washington had deteriorated to the point of crisis after the U.S. and other western nations expelled dozens of Russia diplomats they accused of being spies.

Vassily Nebenzia spoke briefly to reporters outside a diplomatic luncheon in New York hours after President Trump ordered 60 Russian diplomats out of the U.S. and closed down the Russian consulate in Seattle. When one reporter asked whether U.S.-Russia relations were in crisis, Nebenzia said: "It’s been [in crisis for] some time already. Didn’t you notice?"

Nebenzia declined to speculate about potential retaliation from the Kremlin, but did tell reporters that "diplomacy supposes that there is a response when such things happen."

When pressed to elaborate, Nebenzia said: "Normally [there's] a mirror-like response, but wait for what Moscow will say."

Nebenzia declined to name the expelled diplomats, citing their privacy. When asked what their duties were, the ambassador said they were "doing the same as what I was doing, dealing with the U.N.

As he got into his car, Nebenzia added: "Ask [U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.] Nikki [Haley] or the State Department or somebody else."

Moments earlier, Haley told reporters that the expulsions were in response to "unacceptable" Russian espionage activity in the U.S.

"We take no joy in having to do this, but we’re not going to roll over and let them get away with this the way they have," Haley said.

All told, at least 22 countries have ousted more than 137 Russians. That number includes 23 kicked out earlier this month by the U.K. in response to a March 4 nerve agent attack targeting Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer convicted of spying for the U.K., and his daughter, Yulia, on British soil. The two remain in critical condition and unconscious. The U.S., France and Germany have agreed it's highly likely Russia was responsible. Russia has denied responsibility, while accusing Britain of leading a global charge against it without proof.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.