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Trump orders expulsion of 60 Russians from US

American president also closes Russian consulate in Seattle in response to recent nerve agent attack in UK; across the EU, several Russia diplomats are also being ordered out

Washington

US President Donald Trump on Monday ordered the expulsion of 60 Russians from the United States and closed the Russian consulate in Seattle in response to a nerve agent attack earlier this month in Britain, senior US officials said.

Across the European Union (EU), a number of Russia diplomats are also being expelled in a coordinated response to the nerve-agent attack.

For the US, it was the toughest action that Mr Trump has taken against Russia, and followed what one of the official called a "reckless attempt" by the Russian government on March 4 to attack former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with a military-grade nerve agent. The pair were found slumped on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury and remain critically ill in hospital.

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The expulsions are the most aggressive US move against Russia under Mr Trump, who has sought a closer personal relationship with Russian leader President Vladimir Putin while at the same time introducing new sanctions against people and entities with ties to the Kremlin.

"The United States takes this action in conjunction with our Nato allies and partners around the world in response to Russia's use of a military-grade chemical weapon on the soil of the United Kingdom, the latest in its ongoing pattern of destabilising activities around the world," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

"To the Russian government we say: when you attack our friends, you will face serious consequences," a senior US administration official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Moscow has denied responsibility for the attack and has retaliated against Britain's expulsion of 23 Russians by ordering out the same number of Britons. Russia's state-owned news service said the Kremlin will respond in "coming days".

The attack was the first known offensive use of a nerve toxin in Europe since World War II, and EU member states agreed on Friday to take additional measures against Russia.

Germany, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia announced expulsions of Russians on Monday.

EU leaders had declared in a statement that it was "highly likely" there was "no plausible alternative explanation" other than Russia being to blame.

The Seattle consulate in the West Coast state of Washington was selected for closure due to its proximity to a US submarine base and to planemaker Boeing Co, the US officials said.

Mr Trump's order also included 12 Russians described by the US officials as Russian intelligence officers from Russia's mission to the United Nations headquarters in New York and reflects US concerns that Russian intelligence activities have been increasingly aggressive.

The US officials said Russian diplomats have been abusing their diplomatic privileges in the US and around the world.

"They hide behind the veneer of diplomatic immunity while actively engaging in intelligence operations that undermine the country in which they are hosted in a democracy they seek to minimise," an official said.

"With today's action, we are removing a large number of the unacceptably numerous Russian intelligence officers who abide in the United States," the official added. REUTERS, BLOOMBERG