Cars of foreign ambassadors are parked near the building of the Russian Foreign Ministry during a briefing, dedicated to the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, in Moscow, Russia. Picture: Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin
Moscow - More than 50 British diplomats and technical support staff will be expelled from Russia, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Saturday, claiming the move will establish parity with Russia's diplomatic mission to Britain.

"Russia offered parity," spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

The move was Russia's response to Britain's expulsion in mid-March of 23 Russian diplomats, and deepens an already-tense row between Russia and the West over the March 4 poisoning of a former Russian double agent on British soil.

The former spy and his daughter were allegedly poisoned by a Soviet-designed nerve agent known as Novichok, a weapon believed to be unique to Russia. Russia has flatly denied the allegations and offered a variety of counterclaims.

Already, Russia had expelled 23 British diplomats. The latest move adds at least 50 more people to that count.

On Friday, Russia responded to Britain's move by announcing that it would limit the size of the British diplomatic mission to Russia to that of Moscow's mission in Britain. However, no figures were given, as Britain does not publish rosters of its embassies and consulates for security.

Britain was not alone in facing Russian retaliatory measures Friday. Twenty-three nations that supported Britain by expelling diplomats were met with diplomat expulsion orders. Russia described those actions as mirror responses.

In total, 59 diplomats from Germany, France and a number of other European nations are to be expelled.

In the past week, 27 nations joined Britain in expelling Russian diplomats. NATO and Georgia have also followed suit. At least 150 Russian diplomatic workers across the world have been handed expulsion orders.

The United States led the expulsion count with 60 diplomats alone and added to its measures the closing of the Russian consulate in Seattle. Russia responded to the United States on Thursday, the night before unveiling its response to other nations that had taken action against Russian diplomats.

Tensions between Russia and Britain continue to escalate. Friday night, the Russian Embassy in London said that an Aeroflot flight from London to Moscow was stopped for a search by British authorities. Russia has threatened to conduct similar searches of British Airways flights.

Meanwhile, the British Foreign Office has said it is considering granting Russia's repeated requests for access to Yulia Skripal, daughter of former spy Sergei Skripal. Both were reported in critical condition after the March 4 attack.

British authorities said Thursday evening that Yulia's condition was rapidly improving. Her father was described as still being in critical though stable condition.

The Washington Post