Sixty Russian diplomats will shortly get on flights bound for Russia, thanks to new penalties ordered by Donald Trump in the wake of the assassination attempt on Sergei Skripal. The US described the diplomats as “aggressive” Russian spies, but the White House said the action came “in response to Russia’s use of military grade chemical weapons on the soil of the United Kingdom, the latest in this ongoing pattern of destabilizing activities around the world.”
The expulsions come as the opening salvo in coordinated actions by Western nations this morning:
BREAKING: President Trump is ordering the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats and the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle “due to its proximity to one of our submarine bases.” https://t.co/hwL9QGsTGQ pic.twitter.com/ceTp1EBGg9
— CNN (@CNN) March 26, 2018
An unnamed administration official laid out the message a little more clearly to NBC:
The United States on Monday announced the expulsion of sixty Russian diplomats and intelligence officers, as well as the closure of Russia’s Seattle consulate, in response to the poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal on British soil allegedly orchestrated by the Kremlin.
These steps, a senior administration official told reporters on condition of anonymity Monday morning, let the Russian government know “when you attack our friends, you will face serious consequences.”
Removing these Russians, the official said, also lessens the “unacceptably numerous” Russian intelligence officers who reside in the United States and spy on Americans.
The actions included the closing of a Russian consulate in Seattle. Sarah Sanders stated in a written release from the White House that the facility was too close to a US Navy submarine base and Boeing’s operations. The closing of that facility will no doubt prompt Russia to retaliate in kind by closing down a US consulate in their country, although we have only three left to close (St. Petersburg, Vladivostok, and Yekaterinburg). Those are already stretched thin to assist Russians in getting visas for travel to the US, which might make Vladimir Putin think twice about an outright closure.
Besides, Putin will have a lot of diplomatic issues to occupy his time. EU president Donald Tusk announced similar expulsions from 14 other nations within the European bloc. Tusk also warned that more expulsions and other actions may be coming:
"Today 14 member states have decided to expel Russian diplomats" – @eucopresident Donald Tusk on co-ordinated action against Russia following Salisbury poisoning https://t.co/rN4CccSimk pic.twitter.com/qggaERAJFB
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) March 26, 2018
In coordinated announcements of expulsions on Monday, the Czech Republic said it is kicking out three staffers from the Russian embassy. Andrej Babis calls the measure an expression of solidarity with Britain.
The Netherlands said it is expelling two Russian intelligence officers, while Estonia said it was expelling the Russian defense attache. The Italian Foreign Ministry announced that Italy would expel two Russian diplomats assigned to the embassy within a week. …
Poland, Germany and Lithuania are among the European countries announcing they are expelling Russian diplomats over the poisoning of Russian ex-spy in Britain.
Germany and Poland both say they have asked four Russian diplomats to leave, while in Lithuania, three Russian diplomats were ordered to leave.
The Skripal assassination — and especially its weapon, a dangerous Soviet-era nerve agent — appears to have been the last straw. This arrogance and recklessness could not possibly have been left without diplomatic and intelligence consequences, especially given Skripal’s status as part of an exchange of intelligence assets. Deploying a weapon of mass destruction in another country is an act of war, and the West had an imperative to make Russia pay a price for it.
That’s especially true of the US, under whose auspices the spy swap took place. Trump’s diplomatic expulsions almost double those of Barack Obama’s for Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 election and makes the Washington-Moscow relationship even colder than ever, but it was the assassination attempt itself that did the damage. Russia under Putin has always been a malevolent force, which Trump’s two immediate predecessors learned far too late in their administrations. Trump seems to have learned it earlier, perhaps despite himself.
Update: The Russian embassy in the US is offering a hint of retaliation. It’s subtle, so pay close attention:
US administration🇺🇸 ordered the closure of the Russian Consulate in Seattle @GK_Seattle🇷🇺. What US Consulate General would you close in @Russia, if it was up to you to decide
— Russia in USA 🇷🇺 (@RusEmbUSA) March 26, 2018
Steve Eggleston’s betting on Vladivostok, but that seems to be the dark horse. One question: why is this in English and not Russian?
Update: Theresa May told Parliament that the coordinated actions involve 18 countries and the expulsion of more than 100 Russians, the largest such retaliation in history:
British Prime Minister Theresa May says 18 countries have announced they are expelling more than 100 Russian intelligence officers in response to the nerve-agent poisoning of a former spy.
The U.S., Canada, Ukraine and 15 European nations have joined Britain in ordering out Russian diplomats who are accused of being spies working under diplomatic cover.
May told lawmakers in the House of Commons that the action is the “largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history.”
Russia has threatened retaliation for the retaliation, which these countries have no doubt already factored into their decision.