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The sign for the Russian Embassy in Washington DC The sign for the Russian Embassy in Washington DC  (AFP or licensors)

US, Europe expel Russians over spy row

U.S. President Donald Trump has ordered the expulsion of 60 Russians from the United States, including 12 people identified as Russian intelligence officers, in response to Russia’s alleged poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. The announcement came while several European nations also announced the massive expulsion of Russian diplomats, prompting Moscow to say it would consider similar steps.

By Stefan J. Bos

The White House confirms that President Donald Trump has given 60 Russians and their families seven days to leave the United States. Among them are a dozen alleged Russian intelligence officers stationed at the United Nations in New York.

Monday's expulsion order, announced by administration officials, also closes the Russian consulate in Seattle and resembled Cold War rhetoric.

The expulsions are the most robust action taken against the Kremlin by President Trump, who has faced criticism for not being firm enough with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump's action is in response to Russia’s alleged poisoning of a former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England, earlier this month.

On March 15, the Trump administration also imposed sanctions on a series of Russian organizations and individuals for alleged interference in last year's presidential election and other “malicious cyber attacks,” its most significant action against Moscow until Monday.

Nerve-gas attack

Those sanctions came as the United States joined Britain, France, and Germany in denouncing Russia for its apparent role in the nerve-gas attack on former spy Skripal calling it a “clear violation” of international law.

Trump already warned last week that the U.S. would take action if Britain believed Russia was involved in the attack. "It sounds to me like it would be Russia, based on all the evidence they have," the president told reporters outside the White House. "It sounds to me like they believe it was Russia and I would certainly take that finding as fact." Trump added: "As soon as we get the facts straight if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be."

Several European Union nations also plan to expel Russian diplomats. Germany and Poland already announced Monday they would each expel four diplomats, while the Netherlands said two Russian diplomats are no longer welcome in the country.

Ukraine, which seeks closer ties with the EU, announced the expulsion of 13 Russian officials. The measures are in support of Britain where last week 23 Russian diplomats were forced to leave. Moscow condemned the action and expelled a similar number of British diplomats.

Separately Russia's EU neighbors, including Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland summoned Russian ambassadors to their foreign ministries on Monday, while Polish authorities reportedly detained an alleged Russian spy.

Amid the diplomatic wrangling, it has become clear that Russian-Western tensions have now risen to levels not seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly three decades ago.

Listen to Stefan Bos' report
26 March 2018, 17:11