US expels 60 Russian diplomats over nerve gas attack in UK

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Washington, March 26 (IANS) US President Donald Trump ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats from the US on Monday, including 12 people identified as Russian intelligence officers who have been stationed at the UN in New York, in response to Russias alleged poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain.

The Russian consulate in Seattle is also being closed as part of the US’s package of punitive measures. A senior US official quoted by the Guardian said that the consulate closure and the expulsions would be carried out “in solidarity with our closest allies” in reaction to what he said was “a reckless attempt by the (Russian) government to murder a British citizen and his daughter with a military grade nerve agent.”

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A second official said the measures were also intended as a response to a “steady drumbeat of destabilising and aggressive actions” by Moscow against the US and its allies.

The expulsion order, announced by US administration, gives the Russians and their families seven days to leave the US.

The expulsions are the toughest action taken against the Kremlin by President Trump, who has been criticised for not being firm enough with President Vladimir Putin.

In a call with reporters, senior White House officials said that the move was to root out Russians actively engaging in intelligence operations against the country, and to show that the US would stand by NATO allies.

The officials said that the closure of the consulate in Seattle was ordered because of its proximity to a US naval base.

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Britain previously expelled 23 Russian diplomats over the poisoning, raising tensions between the two countries to a level not seen since the heights of the Cold War. The government vowed to crack down on Russian spies, corrupt elites and ill-gotten wealth in Britain.

EU members Germany, France and Poland are each to expel four Russian diplomats with intelligence agency backgrounds. Lithuania said it would expel three Russian diplomats and ban 44 Russian nationals from entering the country. Ukraine, which is not an EU member, is to expel 13 Russian diplomats.

Russia promised it would take reciprocal action against Washington. It said Britain had not presented a single fact proving that Moscow was behind the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

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–IANS

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