A Russian colonel turned British double agent and his daughter that were found poisoned on a U.K. park bench are believed to be the latest victims in a long line of Kremlin-ordered hits against spies and dissidents.
Sergei Skripal, a 66-year-old former Russian military intelligence officer, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia Skripal, remain in critical condition after being found unconscious in Salisbury, Wiltshire, earlier this month.
Posion has been a frequent weapon of death used by Russian intelligence agents, stretching back some 40 years.
Kremlin-ordered assassinations: Here is a look back at the victims of alleged Kremlin-ordered assassinations.
In response to the nerve-agent poisoning of the former Russian spy and his daughter in the U.K., President Donald Trump is preparing to expel dozens of Russian diplomats from the United States, two people familiar with the matter said Saturday.
Trump agreed with the recommendation of advisers and the expulsions are likely to be announced on Monday, the people said, though they cautioned that Trump’s decision may not be final. Trump is prepared to act but first wants to be sure European allies will take similar steps against Russia, aides said.
U.S. officials are working through the weekend to develop a coordinated response with the Europeans, one of the people said, after British Prime Minister Theresa May this week rallied support for a tough rebuke.
As early as Monday, a number of European nations also are expected to expel Russian officials, including Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and the Czech Republic. France and Germany backed May’s call for tougher action, though their exact plans are less clear.
The U.S. considers the diplomats to be spies, carrying out intelligence activities under cover as embassy staff, one of the people said. Trump’s action would follow a similar move by May, who ordered 23 Russians that she said were spies to leave Britain over the attack on the former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter.
The advisers reached recommendations for a U.S. response to the U.K. attack at a National Security Council meeting on Wednesday and honed the proposals on Friday. Trump discussed the issue Friday with U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, FBI Director Chris Wray, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, outgoing National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and others, two people said.
All of the people familiar with the discussions asked not to be identified.
Deputy White House Press Secretary Raj Shah told Bloomberg on Saturday, “The United States stands firmly with the United Kingdom in condemning Russia’s outrageous action. The president is always considering options to hold Russia accountable in response to its malign activities. We have no announcements at this time.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment.
Trump has agreed to adopt increasingly tough policy stances on Russia. But the president places a priority on maintaining a personal relationship with the Russian president, won’t publicly attack him, and doesn’t see any benefit to the U.S. in confronting Putin in one-on-one encounters, one administration official said Thursday.
Trump defended his call with Putin on Twitter Wednesday, dismissing those who “wanted me to excoriate him.”
“They are wrong!” Trump wrote. “Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing.”
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