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US, EU join UK in expelling scores of Russian diplomats

Newstalk ZB Staff and Reuters,
Publish Date
Tue, 27 Mar 2018, 8:30am
The US is one of 18 countries which have expelled Russian diplomats over the poisoning over a former spy in the UK. (Photo \ Getty Images)

US, EU join UK in expelling scores of Russian diplomats

Newstalk ZB Staff and Reuters,
Publish Date
Tue, 27 Mar 2018, 8:30am

The US says it will expel 60 Russian diplomats, joining governments across Europe in punishing the Kremlin for a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain that they have blamed on Moscow.

It is the strongest action that US President Donald Trump had taken against Russia since coming to office. He has been criticised by Democrats and members of his own Republican Party for failing to be tough enough on Russia over allegations of Russian meddling in the US electoral system including the 2016 presidential campaign.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, welcoming the show of solidarity, said 18 countries had announced plans to expel Russian officials. They included 14 European Union countries, as well as Ukraine, Canada and Albania. In total, Monday's announcements affected more than 100 Russian diplomats, the biggest Western expulsion of Russian diplomats since the height of the Cold War.

The expulsions follow weeks of lobbying by British Prime Minister Theresa May.

UK correspondent Rod Liddle told Mike Hosking she couldn't have hoped for a better response and proved her critics wrong.

"She has done extraordinarily well on the Russia thing, even if I had my misgivings about theĀ alacrity with which she blamed Moscow.

"She tried to corral the West into action against Moscow; she has been largely successful."

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson tweeted that Monday's "extraordinary international response by our allies stands in history as the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers ever and will help defend our shared security".

May said the co-ordinated measures "clearly demonstrate that we all stand shoulder to shoulder in sending the strongest signal to Russia that it cannot continue to flout international law".

Russia's Foreign Ministry called the actions a "provocative gesture". The Kremlin spokesman said the West's response was a "mistake" and that Russian President Vladimir Putin would make a final decision about Russia's response.

Moscow has denied being behind the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the southern English city of Salisbury on March 4. Skripal, 66, and his 33-year- old daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a public bench in a shopping centre, and remain critically ill in hospital.

Monday's wave of expulsions came after EU leaders said last week that evidence presented by May of Russian involvement in the attack was a solid basis for further action.

The staff expelled by the US included 12 intelligence officers from Russia's mission to the United Nations headquarters in New York, a senior administration official told reporters. Trump also ordered the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle.

"To the Russian government we say: when you attack our friends, you will face serious consequences," one of the US officials briefing reporters said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The individuals concerned and their families have been given a week to leave the US, according to the official.

The closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle was due to its proximity to a US submarine base and plane-maker and defence contractor Boeing, a senior administration official said. Seattle was a hub of Russian cyber espionage, both political and commercial, according to two US intelligence officials.

The UN mission in New York was also a major centre for Russian financial spying and recruiting, the officials said. The New York operations included money laundering and other financial crimes in addition to espionage on US and UN targets, they said.

All the Russians picked for expulsion from the US have been identified as intelligence officers, according to US officials familiar with the expulsions.

European Council President Donald Tusk said further measures could be taken in the coming weeks and months. Mexico said it reserved the right to expel diplomats.
Russia said it would respond in kind.

"The response will be symmetrical. We will work on it in the coming days and will respond to every country in turn," the RIA news agency cited an unnamed Foreign Ministry source as saying.

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