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U.S. Expels 60 Russian Diplomats, Spies; Closes Consulate Due to Boeing Proximity

Police officers stand guard at the bottom of the road where former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal lives in Salisbury, England, on March 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

WASHINGTON — The State Department said this morning that 48 Russian diplomats and a dozen spies are being expelled from the United States in response to the March 4 poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter at a shopping center in Britain.

The Russian government has also been ordered to close its consulate in Seattle by next Monday because of its proximity to sensitive locations.

Press secretary Heather Nauert said Russia’s use of a “military-grade nerve agent” in the attempted assassinations was an “attack on our ally” and “put countless innocent lives at risk and resulted in serious injury to three people, including a police officer.”

The punitive actions are “in response to this outrageous violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and breach of international law,” she said.

“We take these actions to demonstrate our unbreakable solidarity with the United Kingdom, and to impose serious consequences on Russia for its continued violations of international norms,” Nauert added. “Separately, we have begun the process of expelling 12 intelligence operatives from the Russian Mission to the United Nations who have abused their privilege of residence in the United States.”

“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.”

Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy who fed intelligence to the Brits from 1995 to 2004 and was sent to the UK in a spy exchange in 2010, and his daughter Yulia collapsed March 4 at a shopping center in Salisbury. Both were in critical yet stable condition. The first police officer on scene, Nick Bailey, was still hospitalized in serious condition. A restaurant and a pub in the center tested positive for traces of the nerve agent Novichok as military personnel clean up the crime scene and surrounding area.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a statement that he’s “pleased that Russia is being held accountable for its hostility.”

The action is “making clear the United States stands with our allies and that there will be consequences for Russia’s recklessness,” he added, noting the U.S. “must continue to lead international efforts to isolate Russia so that it understands its behavior will not be tolerated.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) praised the “welcome show of solidarity” and called for the full implementation of sanctions against Russia passed by Congress seven months ago.

“Following the invasions of neighbors, interference in elections at home and abroad, and now the chemical attack in the UK, Vladimir Putin has proven clearly to be an aggressor who does not share our interests or our values. We must stand by our partners under attack, and demand that the Russian regime adhere to its international commitments, cease its nefarious aggression, and stop undermining democratic norms and values,” Menendez said. “In light of today’s action, I urge President Trump and Secretary-designate Pompeo to fully acknowledge the Kremlin threat and take the long overdue steps to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to counter the Russian state’s reprehensible behavior against our country, our interests and our allies.”

Before the official announcement was issued, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “the reciprocity principle will work in every such case,” according to Tass news agency.

A senior administration official told reporters on a morning call that the actions “will help curtail Russia’s increasingly aggressive intelligence activities that we see every day here in the United States — additionally, with the expulsion, Russia’s collection capabilities in the United States will be significantly minimized.”

The official said the Seattle closure “was not in any way relative to any particular activity against any base or installation.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the Seattle consulate was closed “due to its proximity to one of our submarine bases and Boeing.”

“The United States takes this action in conjunction with our NATO allies and partners around the world in response to Russia’s use of a military-grade chemical weapon on the soil of the United Kingdom, the latest in its ongoing pattern of destabilizing activities around the world,” Sanders 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. With these steps, the United States and our allies and partners make clear to Russia that its actions have consequences.”

“The United States stands ready to cooperate to build a better relationship with Russia, but this can only happen with a change in the Russian government’s behavior,” she added.