U.S. President Donald Trump is kicking 60 Russian diplomats out of the U.S. — just six days after a chummy phone call with Vladimir Putin that didn’t mention the Kremlin’s role in a nerve agent attack on U.K. soil earlier this month.
The White House announced on Monday that the U.S. is expelling 60 Russian officials and ordering the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle as punishment for the use of a Russian-made nerve agent, Novichok, to poison a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter in the U.K. on March 4. Skripal and his daughter are still in critical condition.
“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,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.
Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had harsh words for Putin after the attack on March 12 and called the Kremlin “an irresponsible force of instability in the world.” The next day, Tillerson was fired, and Trump remained quiet about the incident until March 15, when the U.S. issued a joint statement with leaders of the U.K., France, and Germany blaming Russia for the attack.
“A very sad situation,” Trump said of the attack on March 15. “It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it. Something that should never, ever happen. And we’re taking it very seriously, as I think are many others.” That same day the White House imposed sanctions on as list of Russian organizations and officials for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
In response to the U.S. move, the Russian embassy in Washington tweeted a poll asking which U.S. consulate Russia should close.
The Kremlin continues to downplay the attack and deny its involvement. The British government gave Russia until March 14 to explain how the nerve agent ended up on British soil. That deadline passed with no explanation, and in retaliation, the U.K. expelled 23 diplomats and imposed limited economic sanctions against Russia. Russia then expelled 23 British diplomats and closed the British consulate in St. Petersburg, which further escalated tensions.
Last week Trump called Putin to congratulate him on winning the presidential election in Russia — without mentioning the attack in the U.K. Trump also congratulated Putin on his recent election win, despite explicit directions from his advisors not to.
Cover image: U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin talk during the family photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam, on Nov. 11, 2017 photo. (Jorge Silva/Pool Photo via AP, File)