The Trump administration on Monday ordered the expulsion, within the next seven days, of sixty Russian nationals assessed to be “spies” and “intelligence officers.” Said one senior administration official: “These individuals who are being sent back to Russia . . . are intelligence officers who are being cloaked by diplomatic positions here in the U.S.”
The latest series of moves, which also include the shuttering the Russian consulate in Seattle, are in addition to sanctions and condemnation announced earlier this month .
Monday marks the latest round of censure of Moscow from Washington, following the chemical attack in London in early March, for which Western allies have roundly blamed the Russian government, although the Kremlin vociferously denies involvement.
A senior administration official lamented the “usual obfuscations” on the Russians’ part, related to this matter, and said all U.S. moves to date have been “entirely justified”; the United States insisted that Russian denials were noncredible.
But, when pressed repeatedly to do so, the administration stopped short of calling the attack an “act of war.” The White House said it had been working in close coordination with Downing Street and the government of Prime Minister Theresa May, the United States’ “closest ally.”
Calling Monday’s actions “very significant,” senior administration officials declined comment on whether the United States was weighing sanctions on President Vladimir Putin himself, but warned that the new actions might mark only the “first step” of fresh U.S. actions against Moscow, and floated the likelihood of parallel moves from Western allies in the coming days.
Minutes later, Germany and Poland announced the expulsion of some Russian diplomats.
With the administration noting Moscow had been informed earlier, Sarah Sanders, the White House spokeswoman, released a statement just after 9 a.m. Eastern time: “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 move was “in response to Russia’s use of a military-grade chemical weapon,” which is “the latest in its ongoing pattern of destabilizing activities around the world,” said Sanders.
As the White House installs a new national-security team next month—the hawkish duo of Mike Pompeo at the State Department and John Bolton at the National Security Council—“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,” said Sanders.
President Trump has been criticized in many quarters for congratulating Putin on his recent reelection, and for not addressing the London attack, in his call with Putin last week. A senior administration official said they had not spoken since but that Monday’s move was “absolutely” the decision of Trump himself.
The Russian government had not commented as of press time.
Curt Mills is a foreign-affairs reporter at the National Interest . Follow him on Twitter: @CurtMills.
Image: Vladimir Putin makes his annual New Year address to the nation in Moscow, Russia, December 31, 2017. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via Reuters