By fnf desk | PUBLISHED: 27, Mar 2018, 10:01 am IST | UPDATED: 27, Mar 2018, 10:01 am IST
New Delhi:The US on Monday expelled 60 Russian diplomats accusing them of being "intelligence agents" and shut down the consulate in Seattle in retaliation for the chemical attack in Britain.
European Council President Donald Tusk also announced that at least 14 EU countries have decided to expel Russian diplomats in response to the posting of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain, prompting a "strong protest" fro Moscow, which vowed to retaliate.
As tensions rose to new levels between the West and Moscow, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Washington was responding in concert with its allies to the Russian attack on "our closest ally" by using military grade chemical weapons when it poisoned a former agent, who is now a British citizen, and endangered hundreds of British people.
"When you attack our allies, you face consequences," she said while explaining the US actions.
The Seattle consulate was targeted for closure because it was near a submarine base, and although it was not linked to a particular activity there, it was meant to "degrade Russian spying operations on the West Coast of the US", the official said.
There was a steady drumbeat of Russian efforts to destabilize democracies around the world, the official added.
Tusk told the media that the European Council last week condemned the attack, and agreed with Britain's assessment that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible and that there is no plausible alternative explanation.
"As a direct follow up to last week's European Council decision to react to Russia within a common framework, already today (Monday) 14 Member states have decided to expel Russian diplomats," Tusk said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said: "We consider this step as unfriendly and not corresponding to the goal and wish to establish the causes and search for the perpetrators of the incident on March 4."
It said the British authorities took a "prejudiced, biased and hypocritical stance." It denied Russia's involvement in the incident.
The Russian ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov called the move "a very bad step" that is "cutting what very little still remains in terms of Russian-American relations".
It was the strongest action that U.S. President Donald Trump had taken against Russian Federation since coming to office. Some have drawn a connection to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of possible collusion between Trump's 2016 campaign and the Russian government, as well as Trump's past business relationships with Russian figures.
The Trump administration's move shows solidarity with Britain. But Putin likely will see this as a temporary setback, knowing that over time he can replace intelligence officers, Sulick said. "The world's patience is rather wearing thin with President Putin and his actions", Williamson said.