Many European Union countries joined the U.S. Monday in expelling dozens of Russian diplomats in a coordinated retaliation for the March 4 nerve-agent poisoning in Britain of a former Russian spy, which the British government blames on Russia and has accused the Kremlin of having approved.
The coordinated expulsions — unprecedented since the Cold War — drew instant condemnation from the Kremlin, which warned it would respond in kind and order like-for-like expulsions. The first expulsions announced were in Washington, with the Trump administration ordering 60 Russian diplomats to leave, closely followed by Germany, which gave four their marching orders.
The Netherlands expelled two Russian diplomats; Estonia ordered out the Russian defense attache; the Czech Republic announced it was expelling three Russian embassy staff.
Lithuania said it is expelling three Russian diplomats and banning 44 other Russian officials from entering the country. Latvia said it was ejecting one Russian diplomat. France said it is also expelling four Russian diplomats. Poland’s foreign minister said four Russian diplomats in the country have been expelled.
In Brussels, European Council president Donald Tusk said a total of 14 members of the EU were participating in the collective reprisal. He said further action could be taken in the coming days.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said: “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.” She described move as the biggest expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history.
President Trump on Monday ordered the expulsion of dozens of Russian diplomats posted to the United States and the closing of the Russian consulate in Seattle, Washington in response to the poisoning of a former spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33 in Britain, according to an INN report.
According to the White House, 48 of the expelled diplomats were assigned to the Russian embassy in Washington DC, while the remaining 12 diplomats were assigned to the Russian mission in New York City. The diplomats and their families were given seven days to leave the country.
The US described the 60 diplomats as “intelligence officers” who used their positions to spy on the US.
The Russian consulate in Seattle was closed due to “its proximity to one of our submarine bases” as well as to a Boeing manufacturing plant.
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said:
“The President’s decision today shows that Russia’s actions have consequences. Beyond Russia’s destabilizing behavior across the world, such as its participation in the atrocities in Syria and its illegal actions in Ukraine, it has now used a chemical weapon within the borders of one of our closest allies. Here in New York, Russia uses the United Nations as a safe haven for dangerous activities within our own borders. Today, the United States and many of our friends are sending a clear message that we will not stand for Russia’s misconduct.”
The move follows the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats by Great Britain following the poisoning episode. According to British Prime Minister Theresa May, the pair were poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve gas called Novichok. Skripal and his daughter remains in critical condition.
The State Department said in a statement that the expulsions “demonstrate our unbreakable solidarity with the United Kingdom.”
“The United States calls on Russia to accept responsibility for its actions and to demonstrate to the world that it is capable of living up to its international commitments and responsibilities as a member of the UN Security Council – to uphold international peace and security,” the State Department added.