U.S. Expels 60 Russian Diplomats, Closes Seattle Consulate, In Retaliation For Skripal Poisoning

The United States has joined Great Britain and much of Europe in retaliating against Russia for the attempted murder of a former Russian spy on British soil.

The Trump Administration announced this morning that the government was ordering the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats and the closing of the Russian consulate in Seattle in retaliation for the attempted assassination via poisoning of former Russian Spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Great Britain earlier this month:

President Trump ordered the expulsion of 60 Russians from the United States on Monday, adding to a growing cascade of similar actions taken by western allies in response to Russia’s alleged poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain.

Poland, Italy, Denmark, France and Germany were among 14 European Union member nations announcing plans to expel Russians from their countries in solidarity with Britain, which previously expelled 23 Russian diplomats after the poisoning. Canada also said it would expel four.

The American expulsion order, announced by administration officials, includes 12 people identified as Russian intelligence officers who have been stationed at the United Nations in New York, and also closes the Russian consulate in Seattle. The Russians and their families have seven days to leave the United States, according to officials.

The expulsions are the toughest action taken against the Kremlin by President Trump, who has been criticized for not being firm enough with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. The officials said the action was a coordinated effort with other allies. Poland announced it will expel the Russian ambassador and several other diplomats in response to the poisoning. And Germany announced plans to expel four Russian diplomats within the next week.

In a call with reporters, senior White House officials said that the move was to root out Russians actively engaging in intelligence operations against the country, and to show that the United States would stand with NATO allies. The officials said that the closure of the consulate in Seattle was ordered because of its proximity to a U.S. naval base.

“Today’s actions make the United States safer by reducing Russia’s ability to spy on Americans and to conduct covert operations that threaten America’s national security,” the White House said in a statement.

The Kremlin has maintained that it had nothing to do with the poisoning.


Those sanctions came as the United States joined Britain, France and Germany in denouncing Russia for its apparent role in a nerve-gas attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil, calling it a “clear violation” of international law.

White House officials called the nerve agent used against the Skripals “military grade,” but declined to elaborate on the substance used.

American officials estimate there are currently more than 100 Russian intelligence officers in the United States.

Mr. Trump has said that, despite its denials, Russia was likely behind it. “It looks like it,” he told reporters in the Oval Office on March 15, adding that he had spoken with Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain.

“We are in deep discussions,” Mr. Trump continued. “A very sad situation. 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.”

Mr. Trump has been slower to act than leaders in Britain, France and Germany over the attack, in which Sergei V. Skripal, 66, a former spy, and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, 33, were attacked with a nerve agent.

The senior administration officials who described the expulsion order said the three weeks that lapsed between the attack and White House action was due to close coordination among about a dozen American allies.

Poland has positioned itself to take a lead role in coordinating a response from the Eastern European nations traditionally most wary of their giant neighbor to the east.

The Russian ambassador to Poland, Sergei Andreyev, was summoned to the foreign ministry on Monday morning and informed of imminent diplomatic action against his country. The Polish foreign minister was expected to make an announcement later this afternoon.

The Polish foreign minister, Jacek Czaputowicz called the tragic incident in Britain an “unprecedented attack on civilians with the use of chemical weapon,” that had not been seen since World War II.

Mr. Czaputowicz said the Russian ambassador and three other diplomats were now considered “persona non grata,” giving them until April 3 to leave the country.

Russia’s overall goal, Mr. Czaputowicz said, is to “disrupt international order and create a sense of danger.”

Any expulsion of Russian diplomats would be an unprecedented move on Warsaw’s part, the first time they took diplomatic action against their neighbor due to Russian behavior outside of Poland.

All of this grows, of course, out of the attempted murder of Skirpal and his daughter earlier this month via what British authorities quickly determined to be a deadly nerve agent known to have originated from Russia itself, leading to the inevitable conclusion that only Russia could have behind the attack. Soon after the attack, British Prime Minister Theresa May accused Russia of having poisoned Skripal and his daughter and called them out for staging an attempted assassination on British soil. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson also stated openly that it was “likely” that the attack against Skripal was directly ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin himself. Within days after that, May announced retaliatory measures by kicking 23 Russians living in the United Kingdom under diplomatic passports out of the country, hinting that this may not be the only step that the United Kingdom takes. Several days later, Russia announced the expulsion of an equal number of British diplomats, repeating a tit-for-tat pattern that we’ve seen in situations such as this in the past and which we will also likely see from Russia in response to the expulsions announced by the Trump Administration today.

In addition to the announcement by the United States, a number of European nations announced that they were expelling Russian diplomats from their own nations. This includes France and Germany, which each announced that they expelling four Russian diplomats in their respective nations. Additionally, twelve other European nations have made similar announcements today. In total, more than 100 Russian diplomats are being expelled from 18 different countries, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced earlier today. All of these will no doubt result in similar tit-for-tat expulsions on the part of Russia. The closure of the Seattle consulate is of particular interest since it will cut down the total number of Russian consulates to four locations, including one in San Francisco, Houston, New York City, and, of course, the embassy in Washington, D.C. By contrast, the United States has consulates in St. Petersburg, Vladivostok, and Yekaterinburg in addition to the Embassy in Moscow. Whether the Russians will order the closure of one of these locations is one of the questions that the future will have to answer.

This action ranks among the strongest actions the Trump Administration has taken against Russia to date and comes less than a week after the President had called Russian President Putin and, against the advice of his top national security advisers, congratulated Russian President Vladimir Putin for winning an election whose legitimacy was heavily disputed by Russian dissident groups and international authorities. Earlier this month, the Administration announced sanctions against the Russian individuals and entities that had been previously indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in connection with attempted interference in the 2016 election. Prior to that, though, Trump had failed to implement and has still failed to implement sanctions mandated by Congress in legislation that he himself signed into law. In any case, given that the Russian connection to an attempted murder on the soil of our closest and most important ally, these sanctions seem to be entirely appropriate. The only question is what comes next.


FILED UNDER: Intelligence, National Security, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. CSK says:

    So is this supposed to be the distraction from Daniels? If so, whatever Trump is trying to hide about l’affaire Stormy must be really big if he’s willing to risk annoying his puppetmaster.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    Oh, Master is not going to be happy with his Trump bitch.

    Once again, the United States leads the way! Behind the UK, Canada, France, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Poland, Belgium. . .

    It’s a useful reminder that Putin ain’t as smart as he thinks he is. He had a huge intelligence success in electing Trump. Then he’s so reckless he leaves Trump – well, not Trump personally because so far nothing from him but, “Congratulations on your Saddam-level election numbers!” Anyway, he’s been so openly thuggish the White House can’t avoid action, short of raising the Russian flag over the West Wing and announcing that the Internationale will replace the Star Spangled Banner.

  3. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Poison a former Russian spy on UK soil…pay consequences…if the rest of the world forces Dennison’s hand.
    Help Dennison get elected by attacking US Democratic institutions and processes…not so much.
    It’s kinda pointless…the only way to really harm Russia is to go after the Oligarchs.

  4. george says:

    @michael reynolds:

    On the contrary, if Trump is a puppet Putin is more than intelligent enough to play him this way; he’d internally be quite happy with it.

    Internationally it makes it easier for Trump supporters to claim his independence from Russia, and inside Russia it circles the wagon – nothing is as good for Putin as having the Americans attacking them for something they claim they didn’t do.

    This doesn’t hurt Russia internally at all. Especially given Trump’s “It certainly looks like …”; inside Russia that’s going to play as being very weak – better would have been to say they have strong evidence Russia is behind it. And externally it’s not going to change anything; people who didn’t like them before still don’t like them, people who liked them before are saying everyone kills spies. I suspect Putin’s pretty happy right now.

  5. Kathy says:

    What’s Russian for “Bad puppet!”?

    I wonder if they meet face to face and Putin denies it as much as he denied having interfered in the 2016 election, would Trump now believe him?

    Seriously, Putin as as unsuccessful at “containing” this wreck of a man as everyone else.

  6. CSK says:


    Well, Stormy said he calmed down and behaved himself after she smacked his geriatric buttocks with a rolled-up magazine with his image on the cover, so perhaps we should supply his handlers with a bunch of Time magazines.

    Just a suggestion.

  7. LSC says:

    What I have been wondering lately is when the Russians have gotten their maximum use out of Trump they are going to “flip the script” by actively trying to depose him and try to create more chaos in the US. Kind of sounds crazy but would certainly send many Trump followers and haters heads spinning. Maximum chaos is the goal and I think this is a long term project that unfortunately that will persist long after this idiot leaves the white house.

  8. gVOR08 says:

    @CSK: David Axelrod won the intertubes yesterday by tweating:

    Memo to Gen. Kelly:
    Stormy Daniels reports that the @POTUS became more compliant after been spanked.
    Desperate times demand desperate measures.

  9. michael reynolds says:

    I don’t believe the theory that Putin was after chaos. I think he’d like to discredit democracy, sure. And he hated Hillary. But I think his main goal is a practical one: he wants the sanctions taken down. His actions have, paradoxically, made that impossible. The man Putin elected is too stupid to be able to deliver.

    Putin has done great damage to the US by making the US presidency laughable. He’s weakened us. He’s damaged the western world. But his core problem remains: Russia is Brazil with nukes, too poor, too weak, too vulnerable to be the superpower Putin craves. The gap between Russia and the US has been narrowed, but Russia is still Russia: the drunken lout at the bar, looking for a fight. And we still have a 19 trillion dollar economy. Some day when we get a real president we’re going to have to find ways to hurt Vladimir.

    I envy political scientists and international relations students. This sh!tshow will spawn hundreds of books and papers trying to make sense of it all.

  10. CSK says:


    Excellent! Well done, Axelrod.

  11. grumpy realist says:

    @michael reynolds: I wouldn’t mind if the US swapped out the Star-Spangled Banner for The Internationale. At least we’d have a national anthem that you didn’t have to be an opera singer to sing.

    (Hard to believe that it’s a melody from an old drinking song. My ears just curl up at what I imagine it must have sounded like.)

  12. george says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Some day when we get a real president we’re going to have to find ways to hurt Vladimir.

    Preferably some way that doesn’t turn into a shooting war. As you say, Brazil with nukes – but the nukes are there, and quite a lot of attitude.

    Anger at Trump is to be expected; he seems to have acted as a traitor. But Putin’s just doing what America has itself done very many times in last century or so: mess around in another country’s internal affairs (and in a pretty minor way compared to thinks both we and they have done over the years). As a practical matter that should be stopped, and some retaliation should be chosen designed to discourage further attempts by them or anyone else. Doing it out of anger or some sort of moral outrage is not only hypocrisy, but dangerous hypocrisy.

    What was the line from Hamlet? If we were all treated according to our just deserts none of us would escape whipping? Anger against Trump makes sense. Against Putin its just hypocrisy. I don’t get mad at my opponent in a boxing match if he tries to punch me; that’s his job, its mine to stop him and punch him back. If my coach tries to punch me during a match that’s different.

  13. An Interested Party says:

    Anger against Trump makes sense. Against Putin its just hypocrisy.

    Fair enough…don’t get mad, get even…

  14. RGardner says:

    Russia’s San Francisco Consulate was closed Sept 2017 (plus the chancery annex in Washington DC). The Seattle closure announcement mentions both the Navy Base AND Boeing.
    The comments above regarding puppetry are starting to sound like the Birthers. Unless there is a multi-dimensional chess game going on (where the folks above would be part of the disinformation campaign), we are seeing knee-jerk actions and incompetence.

  15. michael reynolds says:

    I’m not making an assertion of American moral superiority. It’s pure ‘don’t fck with me.’ I don’t have to be a saint to kick your ass if you break into my house. Vladimir needs to be spanked, good and hard because you don’t fck with the USA. He’s trying to climb the hierarchy ladder and it’s the silverback’s job to punish such presumption.

  16. michael reynolds says:

    It is not possible to be aware of the details of the story and reach that conclusion.

  17. george says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I see this more as a case when we’re both simultaneously trying to pick the other guy’s pocket; we interfere in their internal affairs, they interfere in ours – that’s what major powers do (and have done for thousands of years).

    So yeah, we want to send a message saying “don’t F with us”. But if we both draw our guns we’ll both end up dead. Remember how much fun the cold war was? The response has to be a coldly calculated one, because they’ve as much reason to be angry with us as we have to be angry with them.

    We want them to logically think it through and say we can hurt them in minor ways far easier than they can hurt us in minor ways. So they’re going to have to put up with us picking their pocket without responding in kind. But if it comes to major hurt (nuclear war) its a draw – we don’t want it going there. And working out of anger is a pretty sure way of making it come to a shooting war.

    The cold war was not a good thing; starting a new one over this might be initially satisfying, but its not smart. Take a look at the Doomsday clock; we’re at two minutes to midnight, worse than its been in a long time. The reality is that you have to treat countries with mutually assured destruction ability differently than ordinary poor countries. Russia is the poor guy living in a crumbling house down the block who’s got a huge gun collection and not much mental stability. Lots of ways to hurt a guy like that, but you want to do it without pushing him over the edge. Countries with nothing to lose tend to take others down with them.