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US to expel 60 Russian diplomats as punishment for poison attack in Britain

The Russian flag flies on the Consulate-General of the Russian Federation in Manhattan in New York City, U.S., March 26, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
The Russian flag flies on the Consulate-General of the Russian Federation in Manhattan in New York City, U.S., March 26, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Monday ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats and the closing of Moscow’s last diplomatic outpost on the West Coast, part of a coordinated effort with U.S. allies to punish Russia for an attack using a deadly nerve agent earlier this month in Britain.

The action, which involved a larger number of diplomats than had been expected, marks a sharp ratcheting up of tensions with Moscow.

Citing “reckless” behavior by Moscow, administration officials said the severe retaliation came in response to the nerve agent attack on a former Soviet spy and his daughter in Britain earlier this month, which British and U.S. intelligence agencies blamed on the Russian government.

All 60 Russians — 48 based at the Russian Embassy in Washington and 12 at the United Nations in New York — are intelligence agents “cloaked” by diplomatic disguise, a senior administration official said. The order also includes closing the Russian Consulate in Seattle.

The U.S. action followed earlier decisions by Britain to expel diplomats and came in conjunction with similar steps by other European nations.

President Donald Trump has refused to personally condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin for the attack, instead calling him to congratulate him for his victory in a dubious election, and was slow to acknowledge Russian complicity in the poisoning, which critically injured Sergei Skripal and his daughter on March 4 in the British city of Salisbury.

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