In a decision reminiscent of the Cold War era, the US expelled 60 Russian diplomats, describing them as "intelligence officers" and ordered the closure of the country's consulate in Seattle over the use of nerve agent allegedly by Moscow against a former Russian spy in the UK.
A dozen of these expelled diplomats are based out of Russia's Permanent Mission to the UN.
"This is a response to the attack in Salisbury, but it's also a part of a broader set of actions that the Russians have taken for quite some time internationally: a steady drumbeat of destabilising and aggressive actions," a senior official said on the condition of anonymity.
"We are not intending to send any particular message to a country like India. We have a close and effective partnership with India. This is about a specific set of actions that are coming from Moscow and our message is intended for the leaders of the Russian Federation," the official said.
He was responding to a question on the impact of the latest decision of the Trump administration could have on countries like India, which has a strong relationship with both the US and Russia.
The expulsion of Russian "intelligence officials" and the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle will help curtail Russia's increasingly aggressive intelligence activities that is seen every day in the US. With these expulsions, Russia's intelligence collection capability in the US will be significantly minimised, the official said.
"The Russian government used the diplomatic establishment as intelligence platforms, from which they collect information and conduct the destabilising activities in the US and around the world. They hide behind the veneer of diplomatic immunity and actively engage in intelligence operations that undermine the country which they are hosted, the democracies they seek to minimise," the official said.
There are currently more than 100 Russian intelligence officers in the US. With the expulsion of 60, about 40 would still be left, he acknowledged. The Trump administration declined to give details of the designation of those expelled.
The officials said these actions are not designated towards any particular or individual effort of collection by the Russian government.
This is a holistic look at the Russian government's collection capabilities in the US and the consulate in Seattle is just a particular location that has been designated, the official said.
"This is not in any way a relative to any particular activity against any base or installation. We assess that the Russian consulate in Seattle to be a part of this broader problem of an unacceptably high number of Russian intelligence operatives in the US. The decision sends a very clear signal, particularly since on the west coast the Russians will now have a degraded capability with regards to spying on our citizens," the official said, adding that the US is prepared to take additional steps if necessary.
Declining to speculate on the Russian response, he said the US reserves the right to respond further to any Russian retaliation against "entirely justified" action by the US.
The US supports the British decision not to provide samples of the nerve agent to Russia.
"Sharing samples with Russia would not provide further clarification on the origin of the agent used in the attack," the official added.
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