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Russia tells string of European envoys of latest expulsions

Canada's ambassador to Russia, John Kur, leaves the Russian Foreign Ministry headquarters in Moscow on Friday.
Canada's ambassador to Russia, John Kur, leaves the Russian Foreign Ministry headquarters in Moscow on Friday. (VASILY MAXIMOV/AFP/Getty Images)

MOSCOW — A parade of European ambassadors passed through Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Friday to receive formal protests and details about Moscow’s plans to expel more diplomats in a deepening crisis with the West.

The series of meetings — an astonishing display of European envoys arriving one after the other — marked the latest twist in reprisal moves after the March 4 nerve agent poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter in Britain.

Last week, 27 Western nations joined Britain in expelling Russian diplomats believed to be working as intelligence officers. On Friday, it was Moscow’s turn to answer in kind, ordering a host of expulsions of diplomats from the Netherlands, Italy, Finland, and others.

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It came after Moscow on Thursday announced it would expel 60 American diplomats and close the US Consulate in St. Petersburg — a move in response to Washington’s decision to expel 60 Russian diplomats and shutter a consulate in Seattle.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned Thursday that any action against Russia’s diplomatic corps would be ‘‘mirrored’’ by Moscow. That played out for the Europeans on Friday.

More than a dozen European ambassadors were told to appear at the ministry in central Moscow to receive formal notices of expulsion.

The procession began with the German, French, and Italian ambassadors in the early afternoon. They were greeted with scores of television cameras perched by the looming gray doors — which still bear the hammer and sickle insignia of the Soviet Union — that lead into the halls of the Stalinist skyscraper the Foreign Ministry calls home.

Rüdiger Freiherr von Fritsch, the German ambassador, stopped to engage briefly with journalists from the state news channel Rossiya 24.

‘‘I used today’s opportunity to emphasize two things,’’ von Fritsch said. ‘‘The first is that it is still in Germany’s interests to have good relations with Russia. . . . We remain open to dialogue.’’

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British Ambassador Laurie Bristow, who has been summoned to the ministry several times this week, did not comment on what transpired during the meeting.

But the Russian Foreign Ministry said later that it was taking special measures against Britain: the size of British diplomatic mission in Russia would be limited to the size of Russia’s mission in Britain. The numbers were not specified.

One by one, the diplomats’ cars pulled up the Foreign Ministry’s driveway for meetings that lasted about a half-hour. The line of black sedans was broken only by the Swedish ambassador, traveling in a silver Volvo SUV.

Many of the expulsion orders mostly applied to just one or two diplomats from each embassy, and rarely exceeded a handful of staffers.

From the 27 countries that took part in this week’s coordinated expulsions, more than 150 Russian diplomats were given the boot. The total number of foreign dignitaries expelled from Russia should match those figures.

State television channels such as Rossiya 24 were focused mainly on stories from Ukraine and around Russia during the day — specifically the aftermath of Monday’s fire in the Siberian town of Kemerovo that killed 64 people, 41 of them children.

But after the stream of diplomats picked up, the channel opened a live window on the event.

In a separate development, a Russian man accused of hacking three US technology companies in 2012, possibly compromising the personal information of more than 100 million users, was extradited from the Czech Republic to the United States on Friday, The New York Times reported, citing law enforcement officials.

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The man, Yevgeniy Aleksandrovich Nikulin, was arrested while visiting the Czech Republic in 2016, and his case quickly turned into a battle between Washington and Moscow over whether he should be tried in the United States.

Nikulin faces three counts of computer intrusion, two counts of causing damage to a protected computer, two counts of aggravated identity theft, one count of trafficking, and one count of conspiracy. He could face more than 30 years of prison and more than $1 million in fines.

His arrest came only two days before the Obama administration formally accused the Russian government of stealing and disclosing e-mails from the Democratic National Committee and other institutions and prominent individuals.

Nikulin’s lawyer fought his extradition to the United States, saying the case was politically motivated. The Russian government had argued separately that it had jurisdiction in the case after a Moscow court issued an arrest warrant for Nikulin in November 2016 for the theft of $3,450 via a site called WebMoney in 2009.

More broadly, the Kremlin has claimed that the United States is unfairly targeting its citizens around the world for political purposes. The Russian ambassador in Prague has said the case involving Nikulin was another attempt to “extend the jurisprudence of American law to the territory of third countries.”

This year, Spain extradited to the United States two Russians suspected of hacking, and another Russian, Aleksandr V. Vinnik, is being held in Greece with extradition requests from both Washington and Moscow.

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Nikulin’s extradition was confirmed Friday by the spokeswoman of the Czech Ministry of Justice, Tereza Schejbalova.

The charges against Nikulin were laid out in a grand jury indictment unsealed after his arrest. He is accused of hacking into the computer networks of three companies — LinkedIn, Dropbox, and Formspring — damaging the computers of LinkedIn and Formspring employees and using their credentials for further intrusions.