The Trump administration announced that it is expelling sixty Russian diplomats from the U.S. for that government’s alleged role in the poisoning of a Russian ex-patriot living in Britain earlier this month. The announcement is expected to coincide with similar announcements from other European Union countries, many of them also NATO members.
Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, a body that sets the political agenda of the EU announced the coordinated announcements this morning shortly after 9 a.m. “Today 14 EU Member States decided to expel Russian diplomats as direct follow-up to #EUCO discussion last week on #SalisburyAttack. Additional measures including further expulsions are not excluded in coming days, weeks.”
Countries such as Poland, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have indicated that they will be making their similar, individual announcements throughout the day.
Of the sixty diplomats expelled from the U.S., twelve are stationed at the United Nations in New York. Forty-eight are stationed at the Russian embassy in Washington D.C. In addition to the expulsions, the U.S. government is also closing the Russian consulate in Seattle. That consulate, the administration says, is being closed due to its proximity to a U.S. submarine base as well as Boeing headquarters.
Senior administration officials assert that the Russian officials designated for expulsion are intelligence personnel “being cloaked by diplomatic positions here in the US.” The U.S. considers them “aggressive collection personnel.” The expulsions will leave forty Russians in the U.S. by the administration’s estimates, but the fewer number will make it easier for the FBI to track, they say.
Russia is accused of poisoning sixty-six-year-old Sergey Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia in Salisbury, a cathedral city in Wilshire, England, about ninety miles southwest of London. They were found slumped on a bench on March 4 and have been hospitalized with their conditions described as critical since. A third victim, a British Detective that visited Skripal’s home at the outset of the investigation has also been hospitalized. His condition has remains serious.
Authorities have determined that the Skripals are suffering from “exposure to a nerve agent.” That nerve agent has been identified as Novichok, a military grade substance developed in the Soviet Union during the 1970s.
Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer who was convicted in Russia of spying for the British in 2006. He was released in 2010 as part of a negotiated spy swap between the nations and had been living in Salisbury ever since. His daughter Yulia flew to England the day before the two were found.
In a joint statement between the U.K., France, Germany and the U.S., the countries condemned the attacks and called on Russia to answer all questions raised by it. Russia has denied any involvement in the incident and has called the U.K.’s actions “provocative” and their accusations “unfounded.”
The White House today admonished Russia but said it stands ready to cooperate with the nation if it will alter its behavior. “With these steps, the United States and our allies and partners make clear to Russia that its actions have consequences. The United States stands ready to cooperate to build a better relationship with Russia, but this can only happen with a change in the Russian government’s behavior,” the statement read.
The only reaction so far to the expulsion by the Russian embassy in the U.S. was to post a poll on its Twitter feed asking for votes on which U.S. embassy in Russia respondents would close if it were up to them. “What US Consulate General would you close in @Russia, if it was up to you to decide [sic],” the embassy asked. The poll listed three U.S.-consulate-locations as options: Yekaterinburg, Vladivostok and St. Petersburg, Russia.