On Monday, the White House announced that President Trump had ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats — 12 of whom were found to be intelligence officers — from the United States over the alleged poisoning of a former spy in the U.K. Ever since British authorities claimed Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia’s poisoning was likely the result of Russian interference, Trump has agreed publicly with this conclusion, and even issued a joint statement with the British, German, and French governments condemning the incident. Monday’s expulsion news marks his most severe rebuke of Vladimir Putin’s government.
Twelve Russian diplomats at the United Nations in New York and 48 at the Russian embassy in Washington face expulsion by the U.S. government for what senior administration officials described as covert intelligence operations that undermine U.S. national security.
The U.S. government also is closing the Russian consulate in Seattle, which senior administration officials said they believe has served as a key outpost in Russia’s intelligence operations.
In a statement, the White House said, “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.” Even so, Trump has faced criticism regarding his reticence to say or do anything significant to censure Russia or Putin as quickly as the U.K. and other European nations were. The White House only just issued new sanctions against the Kremlin over its 2016 presidential election meddling, and Trump recently admitted he ignored the advice of staffers and called Putin to congratulate him over his recent re-election.
Whether or not smoke will begin to billow from the Russian consulate in Seattle, like the San Francisco facility prior to its closure, remains to be seen.
UPDATE #1 – 10:25am EST: The Washington Post reports initial word from Russia’s Foreign Ministry, which is “outraged” over the diplomatic expulsion and preparing a further response.