President redeems himself with expulsion of Russians

Last week, we criticized President Donald J. Trump for congratulating Russian strongman Vladimir Putin on winning a fake election.

We argued it was unseemly for Trump, who leads the world’s most successful democracy, to turn a blind eye to Putin’s iron-fisted rule and his willingness to do whatever is necessary to hold on to the reins of power.

Today, however, we shower Trump with praise in the wake of his decision to expel 60 Russian diplomats and to shutter Russia’s consulate in Seattle.

The administration called the action the largest expulsion of Russian spies in American history, and said the consulate in Seattle was deemed a counterintelligence threat.

The U.S. joined 20 other countries in ousting more than 136 Russians, including 23 kicked out earlier by Britain.

“Together we have sent a message that we will not tolerate Russia’s continued attempts to flout international law and undermine our values,” Prime Minister Theresa May told Parliament.

May’s hard line against Russia’s poisoning of an ex-intelligence officer in Britain prompted other countries to weigh in.

President Trump’s decision to expel the Russian spies is notable because he has steadfastly avoided challenging Putin personally or directly over the communist country’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Indeed, the Republican president’s failure to raise the election issue or the poisoning of the former Russian spy was harshly criticized by Republicans and Democrats alike.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., one of the elder statesmen in Congress, had this to say: “An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections.”

On Monday, after the administration announced the Russian spies have seven days to leave the U.S., McCain called the action “a welcome step forward in holding Putin accountable.”

Retaliation promised

Not surprisingly, the Kremlin condemned the expulsions by Western nations and promised to retaliate.

Such diplomatic tit-for-tat is to be expected and should not dissuade the Trump administration from holding Putin’s feet to the fire. After all, the Russian leader has made no secret of his ultimate goal: the resurrection of the former Soviet Union.

On Tuesday, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, blamed Russia for supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad and playing a “central role in the bombing of Syrian civilians into submission.”

Haley condemned the forced surrender of one of the last rebel-held enclaves in Syria and accused Syrian government forces of using a U.N.-backed cease-fire to accomplish it.

The seven-year civil war has resulted in the deaths of more than 400,000 people, and has cost the nation’s economy more than $250 billion.

About half the country’s population of 18 million-plus has been displaced.

Russia’s involvement in the widespread death and destruction also demands a response from the West.

While President Trump is to be commended for ordering the expulsion of the 60 Russian spies, the administration needs to develop a plan with other Western nations for further punishing Putin and his henchmen.

In 2016, then President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats in retaliation for the country’s interference in the U.S. presidential election.

Obama also went after the assets in the U.S. of some Russians and shut down two compounds operated by Moscow.

It is no secret that Russian oligarchs have a financial presence in the U.S., Britain and other developed nations.

It is also no secret that Putin controls these very rich business leaders who wield enormous political influence.

The Russian leader handpicked the individuals who benefited from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dismantling of the state-controlled economy.

Thus, billions of dollars are being siphoned from Russia’s economy to benefit a select few, including Putin.

The United States and its allies should continue to identify the Russian players and make the information public.

Americans, in particular, need to know the extent of Russia’s involvement in the economy and if there are national-security implications that should concern Washington.

President Trump must send a clear message to Putin and members of his inner circle that their thuggish behavior – as exemplified by the poisoning of the former Russian spy in Britain – will not be tolerated.

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