The Trump administration announced Monday that it is expelling 60 Russian intelligence officers working under diplomatic cover from the U.S. in retaliation for a chemical attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in England.
Senior administration officials said this action was being taken in concert with allies “to make clear to Russia that its actions have consequences.”
The Russian consulate in Seattle will also be shuttered, with officials citing its proximity to a naval base and the broader problem of an “unacceptably numerous” amount of Russian intelligence officers operating in the U.S.
In total, 60 alleged “intelligence officers being cloaked by diplomatic positions” are being expelled, including 48 based at the Russian embassy and 12 at the Russian mission to the United Nations. They and their families will be given seven days to leave the country.
In a background briefing Monday, a senior administration official stated that these actions are intended to “help curtail Russia’s increasingly aggressive intelligence activities that we see every day in the U.S.” Officials estimated there are “well over 100” Russian intelligence officers currently in the country, many of them operating "behind the veneer of diplomatic immunity."
On March 4, former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter, 33-year-old Yulia Skripal, were poisoned in Salisbury, England. British Prime Minister Theresa May has blamed the Russian government for the attack, but Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied involvement.
“We are stating that this is quite unprecedented - international affairs bordering, maybe, on banditry,” a Kremlin spokesperson said Sunday in response to Britain’s allegations, according to Reuters.
In a joint statement with May, French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier this month, President Trump called the attack using a Russian nerve agent “an assault on U.K. sovereignty” and “a breach of international law.”
“This was a reckless attempt by the government to murder a British citizen and his daughter on British soil with a military-grade chemical weapon,” a senior administration official told reporters Monday.
In response to the news, the Russian embassy posted a Twitter poll asking followers which U.S. consulate they would close. The soon-to-be-closed Russian consulate in Seattle retweeted the post.
According to CNN, the National Security Council recommended Friday that President Trump take this action. Several European countries were also expected to announce similar moves against Russian diplomats.
“I think you’ll see today and in the days ahead actions on the part of our allies,” one official said, but they declined to specify what other countries are planning.
Administration officials stressed that the president remains open to a better relationship with Russia and Putin, but “this can only happen with a change in the Russian government’s behavior.”