US expels 60 Russian diplomats in response to attack on ex-spy in Britain

WASHINGTON — The United States on Monday announced the expulsion of sixty Russian diplomats and intelligence officers, as well as the closure of Russia's Seattle consulate, in response to the poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal on British soil allegedly orchestrated by the Kremlin.

These steps, a senior administration official told reporters on condition of anonymity Monday morning, let the Russian government know "when you attack our friends, you will face serious consequences."

Removing these Russians, the official said, also lessens the "unacceptably numerous" Russian intelligence officers who reside in the United States and spy on Americans.

The Russian individuals and their families will have seven days to leave the U.S.

"As we've stressed to Moscow, the door to dialogue is open," the official told reporters on a call announcing the latest U.S. moves. "But if Russia wants to improve relations, it first needs to acknowledge responsibility for this attack and cease its reckless behavior."

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The action comes after the United Kingdom kicked 23 Russian diplomats out of the country last week following the nerve agent attack earlier this month.

The U.S., in tandem with the U.K., France, and Germany, previously issued a joint statement blaming Russia for the attack, and the Trump administration slapped new sanctions on Russia — citing the recent chemical weapons attack in the U.K., as well as cyber interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

At the time the sanctions were announced, a senior national security official said the sanctions were "just one of a series of ongoing actions we're taking to counter Russian aggression" and that "there will be more to come."

Those Treasury sanctions against five entities and 19 individuals overlapped with previous measures taken by the United States, including naming all 13 Russians previously indicted by Robert Mueller for 2016 election meddling. The president has previously sought to delegitimize Mueller's investigation as a "witch hunt" and called claims that his campaign colluded with Russia "phony."

Trump has said it "certainly looks like the Russians were behind" the Skripal attack, but he's also alluded to a coming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who he congratulated on his recent re-election victory without mention of voter irregularities and allegations of voter fraud.

An NSC spokesman wouldn't answer if Trump had spoken directly with Putin about the chemical agent attack, simply reiterating that the last time the two men spoke was Tuesday.