Trump administration expels 60 Russian diplomats, shudders Seattle consulate

(iStock)
(iStock)

Washington – The Trump administration expelled 60 Russian diplomats on Monday and ordered Russia's consulate in Seattle to close, as the United States and European nations sought to jointly punish Moscow for its alleged role in poisoning an ex-spy in Britain.

Senior Trump administration officials said all 60 Russians were spies working in the US under diplomatic cover, including a dozen at Russia's mission to the United Nations. The officials said the administration was taking the action to send a message to Russia's leaders about the "unacceptably high" number of Russian intelligence operatives in the US.

The expelled Russians will have seven days to leave the US, said the officials. They weren't authorised to be identified by name and requested anonymity. They added that the Seattle consulate is a counter-intelligence concern because of its proximity to a US Navy base.

The move was one of the most significant actions US President Donald Trump's administration has taken to date to push back on Moscow and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Less than a week ago, Trump congratulated Putin by phone for his re-election but didn't raise the spy case, renewing questions about whether the US president is too soft on the Kremlin.

Reducing Russia's diplomatic presence

The US actions came as more than a dozen nations, including those in Russia's neighbourhood, were expected to announce similar steps to reduce Russia's diplomatic presence in their countries or other actions to punish Moscow. Poland summoned Russia's ambassador for talks, and its foreign ministry was among several in Europe planning news conferences later Monday.

Last week, EU chief Donald Tusk predicted that member states would introduce measures against Moscow over its suspected role in the spy poisoning case.

Fourteen EU states are expelling Russian diplomats, EU President Donald Tusk said on Monday.

"As a direct follow-up to last week's European Council decision to react to Russia within a common framework, already today 14 member states have decided to expel Russian diplomats," Tusk told a news conference in Varna, Bulgaria.

Britain has already expelled 23 Russian diplomats, accusing them of being undeclared intelligence agents, which led Russia to expel the same number of British diplomats. The European Union has already recalled its ambassador to Russia.

READ: UK expels 23 Russian diplomats over spy poisoning

Britain has accused Moscow of perpetrating the attack. The US, France and Germany have agreed it's highly likely that's the case.

France has told four Russian diplomats to leave the country within one week in response to the poisoning of a former Russian double-agent in Britain, the foreign ministry said on Monday.

"In solidarity with our British partners, we have notified today the Russian authorities of our decision to expel from French territory four Russian employees with diplomatic status," Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement.

Ukraine is to expel 13 Russian diplomats as part of a coordinated effort by European nations and the US to punish Russia over the attack, Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko announced on Monday.

"In response to a cynical chemical attack in Salisbury, Ukraine, in the spirit of solidarity with our British partners and transatlantic allies and in coordination with EU countries, decided to expel 13 Russian diplomats from the few that remain (in Kiev)," Poroshenko posted on his Facebook page.

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