US, EU expel more than 100 Russian diplomats over UK nerve attack

Update US, EU expel more than 100 Russian diplomats over UK nerve attack
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US President Donald Trump has authorized the expulsion of 60 alleged Russian spies from the United States in response to a nerve agent attack on an ex-spy in the English city of Salisbury. Senior administration officials said that 48 ‘known intelligence officers’ at the Russian consulate in Seattle and 12 more at the Russian mission to the UN have seven days to leave the country. (AFP)
Update US, EU expel more than 100 Russian diplomats over UK nerve attack
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US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks to the media about the situation with Russia while leaving a United Nations lunch on March 26, 2018 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)
Update US, EU expel more than 100 Russian diplomats over UK nerve attack
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Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia speaks to the media while getting into his car after a United Nations lunch on March 26, 2018 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)
Update US, EU expel more than 100 Russian diplomats over UK nerve attack
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People exit the Permanent Russian Mission to the United Nations on March 26, 2018 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)
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Updated 27 March 2018

US, EU expel more than 100 Russian diplomats over UK nerve attack

US, EU expel more than 100 Russian diplomats over UK nerve attack

LONDON: EU countries and the United States expelled more than 100 Russian diplomats on Monday in a concerted effort to punish the Kremlin for a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain that they have blamed on Moscow.
It was the biggest Western expulsion of Russian diplomats since the height of the Cold War. 
British Prime Minister Theresa May, welcoming the show of solidarity, said 18 countries had announced plans to remove Russian officials as part of the response to the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal on UK soil.
Skripal, 66, and Yulia Skripal, 33, were found unconscious on a public bench in a shopping center on March 4 and remain critically ill in hospital.
“We assess that more than 130 people in Salisbury could have been potentially exposed to this nerve agent,” May said. 
The US said it would send home 60 Russian diplomats and ordered the Seattle consulate shuttered in response to the UK spy case.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement Monday that President Donald Trump was responding to “Russia’s use of a military-grade chemical weapon on the soil of the United Kingdom.” 
She said the expulsion will “make the United States safer” as it will reduce “Russia’s ability to spy on Americans and to conduct covert operations that threaten America’s national security.”
Joining the US and EU was Australia, which confirmed it was expelling two Russian diplomats identified as undeclared intelligence officers, citing Russia’s “reckless and deliberate conduct.” New Zealand said it had no such agents operating on its shores but would expel them if it did.
Ukraine said it was expelling 13 Russian diplomats, while Germany’s foreign minister said Berlin had ordered the removal of four Russian diplomats from its soil.
“After the Salisbury poisoning Russia has still not helped clarify the situation. We did not take this decision lightly,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Twitter.
European Union chief Donald Tusk says 14 member nations are expelling Russian diplomatic staff, adding that there may be additional measures including further expulsions in the coming days and weeks.

The Czech Republic said it waskicking out three staffers from the Russian embassy. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis calls the measure an expression of solidarity with Britain.
The Netherlands said it was expelling two Russian intelligence officers, while Estonia said it was sending away the Russian defense attaché. 
Italy would expel two Russian diplomats assigned to the embassy within a week, said Foreign Ministry in Rome.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Twitter 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 coordinated measures sent the “strongest signal to Russia that it cannot continue to flout international law.”
Britain had evidence Russia has investigated ways of distributing nerve agents for assassinations, May told parliament.

Provocative gesture
Russia’s Foreign Ministry called the expulsions a “provocative gesture.” A Kremlin spokesman said the West was making a “mistake” and that 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.
Monday’s wave of expulsions followed EU leaders saying last week that evidence presented by May of Russian involvement in the attack was a solid basis for further action.
The staff expelled by Washington includes 12 people identified by the United States as intelligence officers from Russia’s mission to the United Nations headquarters in New York. They were involved in activities outside their official capacity and an abuse of their privileges of residence, US Ambassador Nikki Haley said.
Russian UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzia called it “a very unfortunate, very unfriendly move.”
Trump also ordered the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle because of its proximity to a US submarine base and planemaker and defense contractor Boeing Co, a senior US official said. Seattle was a hub of Russian cyber espionage, both political and commercial, according to two US intelligence officials.
The administration officials said “well over 100 intelligence officers” operated in the United States, and Washington’s action cuts 60 of them.
The envoys and their families have been given a week to leave the United States, according to one US official. Australia has issued the same deadline to its expelled diplomats.

(With Reuters)