WASHINGTON — The United States has decided to shut down a Russian consulate in Seattle and deport 60 Russian diplomats from the country, the White House stated on Monday. The U.S. decision was quickly followed by similar announcements by Canada and more than a dozen EU nations, which came together to retaliate for Russia's alleged use of a chemical weapon in an assassination attempt on a former Russian spy in Britain.
In a coordinated move, countries across Europe said they will also eject Russian diplomats in solidarity with Britain, which expelled 23 Russian diplomats a week and a half ago. Germany and France both said they will expel four diplomats while the Czech Republic and Lithuania will expell three. The Netherlands stated that it will deport two Russian diplomats, as did Denmark. Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko said that 13 diplomats will be sent back to Russia and Croatia said it will declare one Russian diplomat a "persona non grata," without providing any details on the diplomat to be expelled.
Estonia said it will expel the Russian defense attache in response to the attacks. Canada said it was expelling four Russian diplomats and denying accreditation for three more in response to a "despicable, heinous and reckless" attack. "The four have been identified as intelligence officers or individuals who have used their diplomatic status to undermine Canada's security or interfere in our democracy," Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a statement.
Moscow said that it will expel at least 60 staff from U.S. diplomatic missions in Russia in response to Washington's decision, Interfax news agency quoted a member of the upper house of the Russian parliament as saying.
The former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were found unconscious on a bench in the British city of Salisbury on March 4 and remain hospitalized in critical condition.
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A senior U.S. official said that Russia "conducted an attack on America's closest ally," and that it this "cannot go unanswered." The senior official described it as part of "ongoing campaign" by Russia that must be countered. "To the Russian government we say: When you attack our friends, you face consequences."
At least 12 of the Russian diplomats who will be expelled work at the Russian mission to the United Nations in New York. According to the U.S. government, they used their diplomatic status to conduct intelligence collection on American soil. The senior official said this action will minimize Russia's ability to "use diplomatic immunity to engage in intelligence operations."
Earlier Monday, the Russian ambassadors to Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were summoned to the foreign ministries of those countries, Russian news agencies reported.
The RIA news agency cited a spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Poland and a representative of the embassy in Lithuania. TASS referred to unnamed diplomatic sources. The agencies did not give a reason for the summoning.
Russia-EU relations have been strained since the March poisoning of Skripal, a former Russian spy. On top of expelling 23 diplomats, Britain has accused the Russian government of "unlawful" use of force. Russia responded by expelling 23 British diplomats and threatened further measures.
British Prime Minister Prime Minister Theresa May said the father and daughter were attacked with Novichok, a Soviet-era military-grade nerve agent. She had asked Moscow to explain whether it was responsible for the attack or had lost control of stocks of the highly dangerous substance.
While Russia has vigorously denied involvement in the attack, Western powers see it as the latest sign of alleged Russian meddling abroad.
The U.S. agreed with Britain's assessment that Russia was "likely responsible" for the poisoning, while Israel condemned the attack but failed to mention Russia by name.