The United States said on Monday it would expel 60 Russian diplomats, joining governments across Europe in punishing the Kremlin for a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain that they have blamed on Moscow. In total, 18 countries expel 100 Russian spies in retaliation for the Skirpal cowardly attack.
So far, this was the strongest action that President Donald Trump had taken against Russia since coming to office. He has been criticized by Democrats and members of his own Republican Party for failing to be tough enough on Russia over allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. electoral system including the 2016 presidential campaign.
British Prime Minister Theresa May, welcoming the show of solidarity, said 18 countries had announced plans to expel Russian officials. Those included 14 European Union countries, as well as Ukraine, Canada and Albania. In total, Monday’s announcements affected more than 100 Russian diplomats – the biggest Western expulsion of Russian diplomats since the height of the Cold War.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson tweeted on Monday:
Today’s extraordinary international response by our allies stands in history as the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers ever & will help defend our shared security. Russia cannot break international rules with impunity
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) March 26, 2018
18 countries expel 100 Russian spies in Skripal retaliation demonstrates an extraordinary international response. With one swoop, it isolated Vladimir Putin.
May said the coordinated measures “clearly demonstrate that we all stand shoulder to shoulder in sending the strongest signal to Russia that it cannot continue to flout international law”.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry called the actions a “provocative gesture”. The Kremlin spokesman said the West’s response was a “mistake” and that Russian President Vladimir Putin would make a final decision about Russia’s response.
Moscow has denied being behind the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the southern English city of Salisbury on March 4. Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a public bench in a shopping centre, and remain critically ill in hospital.
Monday’s wave of expulsions came after EU leaders said last week that evidence presented by May of Russian involvement in the attack was a solid basis for further action.
The staff expelled by the United States included 12 intelligence officers from Russia’s mission to the United Nations headquarters in New York, a senior administration official told reporters. Trump also ordered the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle.
“To the Russian government we say: when you attack our friends, you will face serious consequences,” one of the U.S. officials briefing reporters said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The individuals concerned and their families have been given a week to leave the United States, according to the official.
Trump, who before he took office in January last year promised warmer ties with Putin, last week congratulated the Russian leader on his re-election, drawing criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike. Trump said the two leaders had made tentative plans to meet in the “not too distant future.”
U.S. lawmakers largely welcomed Trump’s move on Monday.
The closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle was due to its proximity to a U.S. submarine base and planemaker and defense contractor Boeing, a senior administration official said. Seattle was a hub of Russian cyber espionage, both political and commercial, according to two U.S. intelligence officials.