Trump to expel dozens of Russians over UK poisoning

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The Trump administration announced Monday it will expel dozens of Russian diplomats from the United States in retaliation for the poisoning of a former Russian spy living in the United Kingdom.

U.S. officials say 48 Russians stationed at posts around the country, including the embassy in Washington, and 12 at the Russian mission to the United Nations in New York face banishment for conducting intelligence activities under diplomatic cover that undermine national security.

The officials are being given seven days to leave the country, a senior administration official said.

{mosads}The administration also ordered the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle, which officials described as a key intelligence-gathering facility. It is located near a U.S. naval base and manufacturing plants for Boeing, the aerospace giant and major defense contractor.

“With these steps, the United States and our allies and partners make clear to Russia that its actions have consequences,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

The sweeping punishments are the United States’ first direct retaliation against Russia for the nerve-agent attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, who fell critically ill after the incident earlier this month in the English city of Salisbury.

“This was a reckless attempt by the Russian government to murder a British citizen and his daughter with a military-grade nerve agent,” a senior administration official said, adding that “an attack on America’s closest ally … cannot go unanswered.”

A senior British official called the announcement “an exceptionally strong signal of transatlantic unity, U.S. leadership, and support for the U.K. and Prime Minister Theresa May.”

The move was made in coordination with 14 European Union member states, which announced Monday they too will expel Russian diplomats accused of spying.

The U.S., U.K. and other European nations have blamed the attack on Russia and the British government has already moved to expel 23 Russians.

Moscow has denied responsibility for the incident and ordered the expulsion of the same number of British officials from Russia.

The Kremlin could similarly retaliate against the U.S. by expelling Americans from Russia, which would further fray ties between Washington and Moscow.

The developments have hampered President Trump’s stated desire to form a closer relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump ignored his advisers’ recommendations last week when he called Putin to congratulate him on his reelection in a contest that international organizations say was marred by irregularities.

The U.S. president also did not confront Putin over the poisoning, even though his aides instructed him to do so.

A senior administration official said that Trump has not personally spoken to Putin since that call.

Russia’s ambassador in Washington has been informed of the latest moves, according to the official.

“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.

The U.S. and Russia have clashed over a range of incidents at home and abroad in the past few years.

In one of its final acts, Obama administration ordered the expulsion of 35 Russians and closed a diplomatic compound in Maryland in response for Moscow’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

The Trump administration followed by imposing sanctions on Russia, which responded last year by ordering the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to cut its staff by 755 people.

The U.S. then ordered Russia to close its consulate in San Francisco, which had long been suspected of being a major intelligence outpost, and another in New York.

Updated at 11:00 a.m.

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