Trump orders expulsion of dozens of Russian officials, as EU announces 17 member states will ask diplomats to leave.
Moscow, Russia – US President Donald Trump has ordered the expulsion of 60 Russians as the diplomatic dispute between Russia and the UK intensifies over a spy poisoning case.
Up to 17 EU countries have also announced that they will expel 34 Russian diplomats.
The US – backing its closest ally – said on Monday it was closing the Russian consulate in Seattle in response to the attempted assassination of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.
Both are critically ill in a UK hospital after being poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent in the southern English city of Salisbury last month.
“The United States takes this action – in conjunction with our NATO allies and partners around the world – in response to Russia’s use of a military-grade chemical weapon on the soil of the United Kingdom, the latest in its ongoing pattern of destabilising activities around the world,” the White House said in a statement.
Sarah Sanders, White House press secretary, said the US and its allies want to send a message to Russia that “actions have consequences”.
Many of the Russians expelled were intelligence officials.
Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, responded by saying the US decision was “wrongful”, RIA news agency reported.
“What the United States of America do today is they are destroying the little that is left from the Russian-American relations,” he said.
The Russian embassy in the US asked Twitter followers to vote which US consulates they would close in Russia, if they could decide.
Besides the embassy in Moscow, the US has three consulates in the country.
Maria Zaharova, Russian foreign ministry spokesperson, told state TV channel Rossia1 that Russia will respond in kind to every country involved in the expulsions. She also accused the US and the UK of setting up the attack against Skripal.
Boris Johnson, Britain’s foreign secretary, said the coordinated move was “the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers ever”.
He called it an “extraordinary international response by our allies” and showed that “Russia cannot break international rules with impunity.”
Britain accuses Russia of using the nerve agent “Novichok” in the Salisbury attack. Last week, the UK expelled 23 Russian diplomats and their families.
Moscow denies the nerve agent claims and retaliated by forcing the same number of British embassy staff to leave Russia.
On March 4, Skripal and his daughter were found unconscious on a bench near a shopping centre in the town of Salisbury, 120km southwest of London.
They are both still in a critical condition at Salisbury District Hospital.
Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer accused of spying for the UK, who was imprisoned in 2006 and later exchanged for Russian citizens accused of espionage in the US.
On March 19, representatives of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) collected samples and their results are expected to be released in a week.
Potentially worsening relations
According to Russian analyst and journalist Konstantin Eggert, if the results of the OPCW investigation show a Russian link, the diplomatic crisis would worsen.
“Moscow will now try to divide the EU into two camps – the radical pro-British camp and those who they would think followed the EU because of the demands for solidarity rather than out of conviction,” Eggert said.
In his opinion, the UK will also gradually escalate its measures against Russia.
“It is quite conceivable to me that quite soon there will be a British version of the Magnitsky Law and it seems that the desire to clamp down on Russian wealth in the UK is the most serious of all others over the last 15-17 years,” he said.
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