AP/ Reuters

Donald Trump orders expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats over UK ex-spy nerve agent attack

27 March 2018

Donald Trump has ordered the expulsion of 60 Russians from the United States and closed the Russian consulate in Seattle over a nerve agent attack earlier this month in Britain.

Key points:

  • The White House says the expulsion will “make the United States safer”
  • The expelled Russians will have seven days to leave the US
  • 14 EU member nations are also expelling Russian diplomatic staff

It was the toughest action that Mr Trump has taken against Russia, and followed what one of the official called a “reckless attempt” by the Russian Government on March 4 to attack former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with a military-grade nerve agent.

The pair were found slumped on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury and remain critically ill in hospital.

“To the Russian Government we say: when you attack our friends, you will face serious consequences,” a senior US administration official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Moscow has denied responsibility for the attack, and the Kremlin said ahead of the US announcement that it would respond in kind.

The attack was the first known offensive use of a nerve toxin in Europe since World War II, and Mr Trump’s move came as European Union chief Donald Tusk announced 14 member nations were also expelling Russian diplomatic staff over the incident.

In a tweet welcoming the actions taken by the US and EU nations, British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said they amounted to “the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers ever”.

Mr Trump’s order includes 12 Russian intelligence officers from Russia’s mission to the United Nations headquarters in New York and reflects concerns that Russian intelligence activities have been increasingly aggressive, senior US administration officials told reporters.

The expelled Russians will have seven days to leave the US, the officials said. They added the Seattle consulate was a counter-intelligence concern because of its proximity to a US Navy base.

The White House said the expulsion of Russian diplomats and closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle would “make the United States safer”.

Less than a week ago, Mr Trump congratulated Mr Putin by phone for his re-election but did not raise the spy case, renewing questions about whether the US President was too soft on the Kremlin.

Sergei Skripal and Yulia Skripal

14 EU nations also expel Russians

Mr Tusk said there may be additional measures, including further expulsions in the coming days and weeks.

In coordinated announcements of expulsions on Monday, the Czech Republic said it was kicking out three staffers from the Russian embassy.

Poland, Germany and Lithuania were also among the European countries who said they were expelling Russian diplomats.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said his nation was expelling 13 Russian diplomats.

The Netherlands said it was 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.

Canada said it was denying three applications from Russia for diplomatic staff but “remains committed to dialogue and cooperation with Russia on issues where we face common challenges”.

Britain has accused Moscow of perpetrating the attack and has already expelled 23 Russian diplomats, accusing them of being undeclared intelligence agents. In return, Russia expelled the same number of British diplomats.

Russia has called the expulsion of diplomats an “unfriendly step” and promised to react to it, the local media reported.