The White House announced Monday that 60 Russian diplomats have been ordered to leave the country immediately, showing the consequences for Moscow’s alleged actions in attempting to assassinate a former spy in the United Kingdom.
Earlier this month, Sergei Skripal — a former Russian military officer who became a double agent for British intelligence — and his daughter Yulia were poisoned by an advanced nerve agent. U.K. authorities believe that Skripal was attacked with Novichok, a nerve weapon that was created by Soviet scientists and is believed to be up to eight times more powerful than VX. Russia has denied the allegations, as well as claims that Russia has researched and developed the chemical weapon.
The U.S. move will help to reduce Russia’s spy infrastructure inside our country, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders explained.
At least 12 of the 60 “engaged in espionage activities that are adverse to our national security,” the White House added. A senior official further explained that they “abused their privilege of residence.”
It should come as no surprise that Russia moved spies into the United States under diplomatic cover. In fact, every world power, and almost every country with a sophisticated intelligence apparatus, engages in similar espionage operations.
More than anything, the move should be recognized as an action to show solidarity with our western allies. By engaging in what appears to be an attempted assassination on foreign soil, Russia breached international norms that keep world order in check. The Trump administration, following the U.K.’s lead, is punishing Moscow for its rogue behavior.
The administration has also ordered the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle “due to its proximity to one of our submarine bases and Boeing.”
The submarine base that the administration is most likely referring to is Naval Base Kitsap, which is the third largest naval base in the country, located close to Seattle. The base is the home port for several nuclear and non-nuclear submarines.
Boeing is the second biggest U.S. defense contractor by revenue. Boeing’s Phantom Works, its most secretive research site, is headquartered in the Washington, D.C., area. However, the company also has an advanced research center in Seattle, along with other facilities helping to advance U.S. national security.
The U.K. has expelled 23 Russian “diplomats,” whom the British accuse of being intelligence agents under diplomatic cover. Many other nations have also chosen to expel Russian officials in solidarity with the U.K.’s response.
US-European expulsions of Russian intel officials in retaliation for nerve agent attack:
🇺🇸 – 60
🇬🇧 – 23
🇺🇦 – 13
🇫🇷 – 4
🇩🇪 – 4
🇵🇱 – 4
🇱🇹 – 3
🇳🇱 – 2
🇩🇰 – 2
🇱🇻 – 1#Skripal
— Boris Zilberman (@rolltidebmz) March 26, 2018
17 countries expel Russian intelligence agents: US (60), UK (23), Ukraine (13), Canada (4), Germany (4), France (4), Poland (4), Czech Republic (3), Lithuania (3), Netherlands (2), Italy (2), Denmark (2), Estonia (1), Romania (1), Croatia (1), Latvia (1), Finland (1). (Meduza)
— Anders Åslund (@anders_aslund) March 26, 2018
Time is not on Putin’s side. Other than stirring up nationalist impulses among its citizens, Russia does itself no favors by continuing to increase its isolation and acting as a rogue state. Moscow is already suffering from an economic crisis and a declining population. The last thing Vladimir Putin’s regime needs is further isolation from potential trading partners.
The Trump administration has made it clear that Moscow will not be allowed to disregard international norms without consequences. This may cause Russia to rethink its strategy of constantly interfering in the internal affairs of sovereign states. For seven and a half of former President Obama’s eight years in office, Russia was appeased regardless of its troubling actions abroad. By making this the decision, the Trump White House continues to show that the era of “leading from behind” is over.
The “Trump-Russia” conspiracy theorists at CNN and elsewhere will now have to scramble for new ideas on how to reconcile this move with their position that the White House is controlled by Moscow. A senior U.S. official emphasized to reporters Monday that the decision was the president’s alone.