President Donald Trump on Monday ordered the expulsion of 60 Russians from the United States and the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle, senior U.S. administration officials said.
The shutdown of the consulate in Seattle is due to its proximity to a U.S. submarine base as well as defense giant Boeing's operations there.
"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 destabilizing activities around the world," said a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The order includes 12 intelligence officers from Russia's mission to the United Nations who were using their roles as "covers" to conduct covert operations, U.S. officials said. The 60 Russian nationals were given seven days to leave the United States. In a tit for tat move, Moscow is likely to expel a similar number of staff from U.S. diplomatic missions in Russia.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed Trump's order:
Today President Donald J. Trump ordered the expulsion of dozens of Russian intelligence officers from the United States and the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle due to its proximity to one of our submarine bases and Boeing. 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 destabilizing activities around the world. Today's actions make the United States safer by reducing Russia's ability to spy on Americans and to conduct covert operations that threaten America's national security. With these steps, the United States and our allies and partners make clear to Russia that its actions have consequences. 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.
The announcement comes on the heels of a nerve agent attack earlier this month on Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent who worked for the U.K.'s secret service, and his daughter, Yulia.
"This was a reckless attempt by the [Russian] government to murder a British citizen and his daughter on British soil with a military-grade nerve agent. It cannot go unanswered," a senior administration official said.
"To the Russian government we say, when you attack our friends, you will face serious consequences," the official added.
Moscow has denied any involvement and says Britain is orchestrating an anti-Russia campaign.
On Monday, a total of 14 EU member states said they would expel Russian diplomats, according to European Council President Donald Tusk, including Germany, France and Poland. Ukraine also expelled 13 Russian diplomats, announcing the move in conjunction with EU nations.
The expulsions come just a week after Russian President Vladimir Putin won re-election and Trump's congratulatory phone call in which he is reported to have failed to mention the London attack or Russian meddling in the U.S. election.
"I had a call with President Putin and congratulated him on the victory, his electoral victory," Trump said after the call last Tuesday. He added that the two leaders "will probably get together in the not-too-distant future" to discuss the international arms race.
Trump congratulated Putin even after aides, in briefing materials prepared ahead of the call, reportedly warned him: "DO NOT CONGRATULATE." Trump was also supposed to condemn the nerve agent poisoning but he did not, according to The Washington Post, which cited officials familiar with the call.
The phone call prompted a harsh response from some of Trump's biggest critics.
"An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a statement condemning the call. "And by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election."