US President Donald Trump ordered 60 Russian diplomats his country considers spies to leave the country in response to the nerve-agent poisoning of a former Russian spy in the United Kingdom (UK) and closed Russia’s consulate in Seattle, senior administration officials said Monday. Further, fourteen European Union countries announced they were expelling a total of 30 Russian diplomats in a coordinated international response, which is the biggest Western expulsion of Russian diplomats since the height of the Cold War. Australia also announced that it would expel two Russian diplomats over the UK spy attack.The expulsions are the most aggressive US move against Russia under Trump, who has sought a closer personal relationship with President Vladimir Putin while at the same time introducing new sanctions against people and entities with ties to the Kremlin.The officials called the March 4 poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England, an attack on America’s closest ally and a reckless attempt to murder a British citizen on British soil. They said there are more than 100 Russian intelligence agents undercover as diplomats in the US and described the number as unacceptable.In total, 100 Russian diplomats are being expelled from 18 countries, reported Reuters. The report added that this was the largest Western expulsion of Russian diplomats since the height of the Cold War. According to Reuters, British Prime Minister Theresa May, welcoming the show of solidarity, said 18 countries had announced plans to expel Russian officials. Those included 14 European Union countries.
How many Russian diplomats are in the US?
There are currently more than 100 Russian intelligence officers in the US. With the expulsion of 60, about 40 would still be left, he acknowledged. The Trump administration declined to give details of the designation of those expelled. The 60 people expelled from the US include 48 attached to the Russian embassy and 12 at the country’s mission to the United Nations. They have seven days to leave the country, the officials said.At least 14 European Union countries are preparing to take coordinated actions with the US in response to the UK attack, two people with knowledge of the decision said. The countries were expected to include Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and the Czech Republic.Germany has expelled four Russian diplomats, and other nations are following in rapid succession.While US policy toward Russia has grown more aggressive in recent months, some Trump critics say he’s been slow to respond to Putin’s provocations.
Some have drawn a connection to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible collusion between Trump’s 2016 campaign and the Russian government, as well as Trump’s past business relationships with Russian figures.Trump faced criticism last week for calling Putin to congratulate him on his re-election, a vote that observers said was marred by irregularities. After the call, Trump said he hoped to meet with Putin in the “not-too-distant future.”
Here are the top 10 developments in the Russian diplomats’ expulsion:
1) UN secretary general closely following US decision to expel 60 Russian diplomats:UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is closely following the US government’s decision to expel 60 Russian diplomats, a UN spokesman has said. The spokesman added that Guterres would engage “as required” with the governments concerned.”We have seen the announcement by the US Government of its decision to take action against the certain diplomats of the Russian Federation in the US,” Deputy UN Spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters at the daily press briefing. He said he can confirm that the United States Mission to the UN informed the UN Secretariat of its decision to take action under Section 13(b) of the UN-US Headquarters Agreement with respect to certain members of the Permanent Mission of Russia to the United Nations.”This action may require those members to leave the country,” Haq said, adding that the world body will not comment further on the issue at this stage due to the “sensitivity” of the ongoing matter. He added that the Secretary General will closely follow the matter and engage as appropriate with the governments concerned.
2) Australia to expel 2 Russian diplomats: In a widening global response to the poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday announced that his country would be expelling two Russian diplomats. According to 9NEWS, Australia would shortly expel two intelligence officials based at the Russian Embassy in Canberra.
3) Austria not to expel Russian diplomats: Stressing its neutrality, Austria said it would not follow a number of other EU countries and the US in expelling Russian diplomats over the poisoning of the former Russian spy. “We stand behind the decision to recall the EU ambassador, but we will not take any national measures,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl said in a joint statement, adding: “Indeed, we want to keep the channels of communication to Russia open.”The statement stressed that “Austria is a neutral country”, which “sees itself as a bridge-builder between East and West”.
4) What is the issue about? Retired military intelligence officer Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia, 33, were found slumped on a bench in Salisbury city centre on March 4. However, they remain in a critical but stable condition in hospital.Skripal’s poisoning, alleged to have employed the Soviet-era military-grade nerve agent Novichok, is the first known offensive use of a nerve toxin in Europe since World War Two.
5) Not sending any message to India: The US’ expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats is not intended at sending any message to a country like India, which has an equally strong relationship with both Moscow and Washington, senior Trump administration officials said.
“We are not intending to send any particular message to a country like India. We have a close and effective partnership with India. This is about a specific set of actions that are coming from Moscow and our message is intended for the leaders of the Russian Federation,” the official said.
He was responding to a question on the impact of the latest decision of the Trump administration could have on countries like India, which has a strong relationship with both the US and Russia.
6) US expels 60 Russian diplomats: US President Donald Trump ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats from the US on Monday, including 12 people identified as Russian intelligence officers who have been stationed at the UN in New York, in response to Russias alleged poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain.The Russian consulate in Seattle is also being closed as part of the US’s package of punitive measures. A senior US official quoted by the Guardian said that the consulate closure and the expulsions would be carried out “in solidarity with our closest allies” in reaction to what he said was “a reckless attempt by the (Russian) government to murder a British citizen and his daughter with a military grade nerve agent.”A second official said the measures were also intended as a response to a “steady drumbeat of destabilising and aggressive actions” by Moscow against the US and its allies.The expulsion order, announced by US administration, gives the Russians and their families seven days to leave the US.The expulsions are the toughest action taken against the Kremlin by President Trump, who has been criticised for not being firm enough with President Vladimir Putin.In a call with reporters, senior White House officials said that the move was to root out Russians actively engaging in intelligence operations against the country, and to show that the US would stand by NATO allies.
7) UK expelled 23 Russian diplomats: The UK already expelled 23 Russian diplomats in response to the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter, which Prime Minister Theresa May’s government determined was perpetrated by Russia. British Prime Minister Theresa May welcomed the action of other countries to expel Russian diplomats after an attack on a former Russian spy in England, saying it sent a strong signal to Moscow that it cannot flout international law.”We welcome today’s actions by our allies, which clearly demonstrate that we all stand shoulder to shoulder in sending the strongest signal to Russia that it cannot continue to flout international law,” a statement from May’s office said.
8) Russia to respond soon: Putin’s government, in turn, ordered 23 British diplomats out of Russia over what it called “unsubstantiated accusations,” and the Kremlin on Monday said it would act reciprocally if Trump expels officials.Russia will respond to the expulsion of Russian diplomats from European Union countries in kind and in the coming days, the RIA news agency reported on Monday, citing a foreign ministry source.”The response will be symmetrical. We will work on it in the coming days and will respond to every country in turn,” the source said, according to the agency.
Moscow on diplomat expulsions: Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday it would respond to the decision by a large number of Western states to expel Russian diplomats and it accused their governments of blindly following their British allies into confrontation with Moscow.The ministry said in a statement that it viewed the expulsions, ordered in response to the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the English city of Salisbury, as an unfriendly act and a provocative gesture.Britain has blamed Russia for the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter Yulia, a charge Moscow denies.
‘EU’s expression of support for Britain was misguided’: Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova suggested that the EU’s expression of support for Britain was misguided given that it would be leaving the bloc next year.”Britain is leaving the European family. No one cancelled Brexit, and the divorce process is in full swing,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on Facebook.”Therefore a country which is leaving the European Union is exploiting the solidarity factor and is foisting on those countries that remain a worsening of relations with Russia.”
9) Denmark, Finland, Netherlands expel Russian diplomats: Denmark, the only Nordic country to be both a member of NATO and the EU, and the Netherlands said they were each expelling two diplomats, while Finland — a Russian grand duchy until 1917 — said it was expelling one.Sweden, also a Nordic EU member, had yet to announce any expulsions.Denmark, Finland, and the Netherlands were among 14 EU nations to announce the expulsion of Russian diplomats over the brazen nerve agent attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on March 4.”There is no doubt about our solidarity with Britain,” Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen told reporters.”We agree with Britain that it is very likely that Russia is behind (the nerve agent attack). There are no other plausible explanations,” he said, urging Russia “to change course.”He did not disclose the identities nor the functions of the two diplomats to be expelled but said they had one week to leave the country.A statement from the office of Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said the attack “poses a serious threat to the security of the whole of Europe.”Meanwhile, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Twitter the Russian envoys had “two weeks to leave the Netherlands.”
10)Canada also denying 3 Russian applicants: After the US, Canada said it is also denying three applicants from Russia for diplomatic staff, adding that it remained “… committed to dialogue and cooperation with Russia on issues where we face common challenges.””We are taking these measures in solidarity with the United Kingdom,” Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said. “The nerve agent attack in Salisbury, on the soil of Canada’s close partner and ally, is a despicable, heinous and reckless act, potentially endangering the lives of hundreds.
The foreign ministers of Lithuania and Poland have said that they would expel Russian diplomats in solidarity with Britain over the poisoning of a former Russian spy in the English city of Salisbury.”We handed a note to the ambassador that three Russian embassy officials are declared persona non grata for activities incompatible with their diplomatic status,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told AFP.Polish counterpart Jacek Czaputowicz, for his part, told reporters: “The four Russian diplomats have until midnight on April 3 to leave Poland.”Ukraine, which is not an EU member, is to expel 13 Russian diplomats.
Germany, France to expel Russian diplomats as well: Romania will expel one Russian diplomat from the Bucharest embassy over the UK nerve agent attack.Germany, France, and Poland led the way in Europe with four expulsions each. “In solidarity with our British partners, we have today notified the Russian authorities of our decision to expel four Russian personnel with diplomatic status from French territory within one week,” said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian.An EU source said more member states would announce expulsions in the coming days over the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in the English town of Salisbury earlier this month. “As a direct follow-up to last week’s European Council decision to react to Russia within a common framework, already today 14 member states have decided to expel Russian diplomats,” EU President Donald Tusk told a news conference in Varna, Bulgaria, adding, “Additional measures including further expulsions are not to be excluded in the coming days and weeks.”