Friday 14 August, 2020

US expels 60 Russian diplomats over UK spy row

(Image: AP: Experts investigate the nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal in the UK city of Salisbury)

(Image: AP: Experts investigate the nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal in the UK city of Salisbury)

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 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.

European expulsions

The US actions came as more than a dozen nations, including those in Russia's neighborhood, began announcing similar steps to reduce Russia's diplomatic presence in their countries or other actions to punish Moscow.

European Union chief Donald Tusk says 14 member nations are expelling Russian diplomatic staff and said there may be additional measures including further expulsions in the coming days and weeks.

In coordinated announcements of expulsions, the Czech Republic said it is kicking out three staffers from the Russian embassy. The Netherlands said it is expelling two Russian intelligence officers, while Estonia said it was expelling the Russian defense attache. The Italian Foreign Ministry announced that Italy would expel two Russian diplomats assigned to the embassy within a week.

Germany and Poland both say they have asked four Russian diplomats to leave, while in Lithuania, three Russian diplomats were ordered to leave. The German foreign ministry the move was “a strong signal of solidarity with Great Britain and signals the resolve of the Germany government not to leave attacks against our closest partners and allies unanswered".

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.

Britain has accused Moscow of perpetrating the attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK city of Salisbury. The US, France and Germany have agreed it's highly likely that's the case.

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