WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States joined Britain’s allies in Europe and around the world Monday in expelling scores of suspected Russian spies in an unprecedented response to a nerve agent attack.
Washington led the way, ordering out 60 alleged agents, in a new blow to US-Russia ties less than a week after President Donald Trump congratulated Vladimir Putin on his re-election.
Canada, Ukraine and fourteen European Union states matched the move with smaller-scale expulsions, after Britain urged allies to respond to the poisoning of double agent Sergei Skripal.
Russia has denied it was behind the attempted assassination, which left Skripal and his daughter gravely ill in perhaps the first nerve agent attack in Europe since World War II.
And it warned that there would be a tit-for-tat response to those countries “pandering to British authorities” without fully understanding what had happened.
But Western officials made it clear in announcing the expulsions that they share Britain’s assessment that only the Kremlin could have been behind the March 4 incident in Salisbury, England.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Washington and its allies were acting “in response to Russia’s use of a military-grade chemical weapon on the soil of the United Kingdom.”
The strong language contrasted with the warm words Trump shared with Putin last week, when he overrode his advisers’ concerns and congratulated his opposite number Putin on his election win.
“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,” Sanders said.
US officials said that 48 “intelligence officers” attached to Russian diplomatic missions in the US would be expelled, along with 12 accredited to the United Nations in New York.
Trump’s ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, welcomed the move and said: “Here in New York, Russia uses the United Nations as a safe haven for dangerous activities within our own borders.”
In addition, the Russian consulate general in Seattle will be closed, officials said, because of its proximity to US submarine bases and a plant run by private aerospace giant Boeing.