The Trump administration is expelling 60 Russian intelligence officers from the United States and closing the Russian Consulate in Seattle in response to the poisoning of a Russian ex-spy on British soil on March 4.
The action is coordinated with the expulsion of Russian envoys by more than a dozen members of the European Union — but it’s larger in scale than the actions taken by those allies and is a rare example of President Trump taking concrete action against the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On March 14, the UK announced that it was kicking 23 Russian diplomats out of the country, the UK’s largest removal of foreign officials in more than 30 years.
Germany and France are expelling four Russian diplomats each. The Czech Republic and Lithuania are planning to expel three diplomats each. Italy, Spain, Denmark, and the Netherlands are pushing out two each. Latvia, Romania, Croatia, Hungary, and Estonia will all expel at least one. According to BuzzFeed News, Poland and Ireland are expected to make announcements soon, and Sweden and Finland are “seriously considering” kicking out diplomats too.
What’s striking about the numbers so far is that it appears the US has decided to take aim at a much larger number of Russian diplomats than other allies have been willing to. That makes the expulsions looks more aggressive than they might otherwise.
The White House said in a statement on Monday that the actions “make the United States safer by reducing Russia’s ability to spy on Americans and to conduct covert operations that threaten America’s national security.”
It explained that it was shuttering the Seattle consulate specifically because of how close it was to a US submarine base and Boeing facilities.
The administration’s new steps against Russia are the latest development in an international crisis that began March 4, when Sergei Skripal, a former Soviet and Russian spy, was found unconscious on a bench next to his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury.
UK officials believe the Skripals were exposed to a military-grade nerve agent known as Novichok, which was developed in Russia. The pair remain in the hospital in critical condition, and a UK judge indicated last week that they may suffer long-term brain damage.
Russia has denied responsibility for the attack but has agreed to cooperate with British investigators.
The Trump administration’s expulsion of diplomats comes just weeks after the Trump administration announced long-awaited sanctions to punish Russia for meddling in the 2016 presidential election and perpetrating a worldwide cyberattack last year.
The measures, which were unveiled on March 15, targeted nearly 25 Russian individuals and organizations, including members of the Internet Research Agency (IRA) — the troll farm that used social media to sow divisions before the November 2016 vote.
Treasury also sanctioned Yevgeny Prigozhin, known as “Putin’s chef,” for his role in bankrolling Russian hackers. Special counsel Robert Mueller indicted IRA members and Prigozhin last month as part of his ongoing investigation into possible Trump-Russia collusion during the 2016 presidential election.