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Russian Diplomats Expelled By U.S. Arrive Home


Expelled Russian Diplomats Return From U.S.
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WATCH: Expelled Russian Diplomats Return From U.S.

Two planes carrying Russian diplomats who were ordered out of the United States following the poisoning of an ex-spy in Britain have landed at a Moscow airport.

The state-run TASS news agency reported that there were 46 staff members from the Russian Embassy in Washington and their families aboard the first aircraft that landed at Vnukovo airport on April 1.

A second plane carrying 14 staff members from the Russian Consulate-General in Seattle and Russia's mission at the United Nations arrived later in the day, it said.

The United States expelled the 60 Russian diplomatic staff and ordered the shutdown of the Consulate-General in Seattle as part of an international response to Russia's alleged nerve-agent attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury on March 4.

Russia, which has rejected British accusations that it is behind the poisonings, has responded by ordering the expulsion of 60 U.S. diplomats and the closing of the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg.

Twenty-nine mainly Western countries have expelled some 150 Russian officials in solidarity with Britain, and NATO also ordered 10 Russians out of its mission in Belgium.

The expulsions have been the largest since the Cold War.

The Russian Foreign Ministry on March 30 summoned the heads of missions from 23 countries, and said it was expelling about 60 of their diplomats.

Meanwhile, Russia announced more measures against London, with Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova telling news agencies on March 31 that more than 50 diplomats will have to leave Britain.

Russia had already expelled 23 British diplomats after 23 Russian diplomats were ordered out by London.

In an interview published on April 1, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that, despite the loss of trust with Russia, his country was willing to continue dialogue with Moscow in efforts to settle regional conflicts.

Berlin has joined its Western allies in the mass expulsion of Russia diplomats.

"There is no question of it -- a lot of trust has been lost due to Russia's actions in recent years," Maas told the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

"At the same time, we need Russia as a partner, for example to help settle regional conflicts, for disarmament, and as an important pillar of the multilateral order," he said.

"So we are open to dialogue for those reasons and hope to rebuild trust step by step if Russia is also willing to do so," he added.

Both Skripals have been hospitalized since their poisonings.

Sergei Skripal, 66, remains in critical condition, but his daughter Yulia, 33, has been "improving rapidly" and is no longer in critical condition, British health officials said on March 29.

Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer imprisoned by Moscow after being convicted of passing on information about Russian agents in various European countries, came to Britain in 2010 as part of a spy swap.

With reporting by AFP and TASS
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