MOSCOW, March 28. /TASS/. Instructions issued by Russian President Vladimir Putin on preparations for a meeting with US President Donald Trump remain in force, but Kremlin has no information on such work in Washington. "The [Russian and US] presidents have agreed to instruct [Russian] Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov and his US counterpart to discuss these issues [preparations for the two leaders’ meeting]," Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. "So far, I have no information that some discussions began, but, at least, President Putin issued the relevant instructions for the [Russian] Foreign Ministry, since there was such an agreement."
"At the moment, we have no information against the backdrop of the decisions [to expel Russian diplomats] on whether the US is ready to put into practice the statements made by President Trump [on preparing a meeting with Putin]," he added. "That depends on our American counterparts. The Russian side remains open, of course."
Peskov recalled Putin’s stance on such issues. "The Russian side is ready to develop mutually beneficial relations based on mutual trust with all countries, including the US, as much as our opponents and partners are ready to do so."
On March 20, the Kremlin press service reported that Putin and Trump held a telephone conversation, during which they "paid special attention to the issue of holding a possible top-level meeting."
Russian diplomats’ expulsion
On March 26, Washington announced its decision to expel 60 Russian diplomats, including 48 embassy staff and 12 members of Russia’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, demanding they leave the country within a week. Apart from that, it said Russia’s Consulate General in Seattle would be closed.
In turn, Germany, Canada, Poland and France have decided to expel four diplomats each, Lithuania and the Czech Republic - three each, Australia, Albania, Denmark, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands - two each, Belgium, Hungary, Latvia, Macedonia, Norway, Romania, Finland, Croatia, Sweden and Estonia - one each, while Ukraine decided to kick out 13 Russian diplomats.
The move was prompted by the incident involving the alleged poisoning of former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury, the UK. The Russian Foreign Ministry vowed that this unfriendly move would not be left unanswered.
On March 4, Skripal, 66, who had been convicted in Russia of spying for Great Britain and exchanged for Russian intelligence officers, and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench near the Maltings shopping center in Salisbury. Police said they had allegedly been exposed to a nerve agent. Both are in the hospital in critical condition.
London immediately accused Russia of being involved, but failed to produce any evidence. UK Prime Minister Theresa May blamed Russia for "unlawful use of force" against her country. She identified the alleged substance used in the attack as the Novichok nerve agent, developed in the former Soviet Union. The UK expelled 23 Russian diplomats and announced other restrictive measures against Moscow.
Russia has flatly rejected these allegations pointing out that neither the Soviet Union nor Russia had any programs to develop that substance. In retaliation to the UK’s steps, 23 British diplomats were expelled, the British consulate general in the city of St. Petersburg was closed and the British Council had to shut down its operations in Russia.