US, allies band together to expel Russians over spy case
From Washington to Warsaw, Western nations banded together Monday to expel more than 100 Russian diplomats they accused of being spies, punishing Moscow for its alleged poisoning of an ex-intelligence officer in Britain.
President Donald Trump, under constant political heat for his reluctance to challenge Russia, ordered 60 of its diplomats out of the U.S. – all of them spies, the White House said. The United States called it the largest expulsion of Russian spies in American history, and also shuttered Russia’s consulate in Seattle, deeming it a counterintelligence threat.
All told, at least 21 countries have ousted more than 135 Russians, including 23 kicked out earlier by the U.K.
“Together we have sent a message that we will not tolerate Russia’s continued attempts to flout international law and undermine our values,” British Prime Minister Theresa May told Parliament.
The American moves illustrated an increased willingness by Trump’s administration to push back on the Kremlin, even as the president himself steadfastly avoids challenging Russian President Vladimir Putin personally or directly. Less than a week ago, Trump congratulated Putin for his re-election but didn’t raise the March 4 spy poisoning, Russia’s alleged election-meddling in the U.S. or its own tainted voting process, prompting dismayed critiques even from Trump’s fellow Republicans.
In a choreographed show of trans-Atlantic unity, the U.S. and European allies carefully timed their announcements for maximum effect.
Within a few hours, at least 16 European Union nations expelled Russians, with more likely to follow. Germany, Poland and France each said it planned to boot four Russian diplomats, the Czech Republic and Lithuania ousted three and Italy, two. Canada also took action, kicking out four Russians and denying three who have applied to enter the country.
The list included nations in Russia’s backyard that have perhaps the most at stake. Ukraine, a non-EU country with its own conflicts with Moscow, was expelling 13 Russians. All three Baltic states said they would make diplomats leave.
Almost all of the countries said publicly that those being expelled were actually Russians intelligence operatives working under diplomatic cover.
Moscow threatened retaliation of the tit-for-tat variety, suggesting it would kick out an equal number of foreign diplomats.