US expels 60 Russian diplomats

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Vladimir Putin
Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends his annual press conference in Moscow on December 19, 2013. AFP PHOTO / KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV (Photo credit KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)

The Associated Press has announced that the Trump administration has expelled 60 Russian diplomats on Monday for interfering in the 2016 election and conducting multiple damaging cyberattacks against the U.S., just as a number of European nations moved to jointly punish Moscow for its alleged role in poisoning an ex-spy in Britain.

The efforts are seen as welcomed, but too late and too little.  The move has prompted calls for more and tougher action against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government.  Within weeks of the 2016 election former president Barack Obama issued an executive order retaliating against the Russians for their efforts to interfere by expelling 35 Russians: “the GRU and the FSB, two Russian intelligence services; four individual officers of the GRU; and three companies that provided material support to the GRU’s cyber operations.”

Democrats have been especially critical of President Donald Trump’s seeming reluctance to issue sanctions and to criticize Moscow’s interference.  Less than a week ago, Trump was on the phone congratulating Putin on his re-election but failed to discuss the issue of Russian spies on American soil.  Critics continue to say Trump is too soft on the Kremlin.

According to senior Trump administration officials all 60 Russians expelled were spies working in the U.S. under diplomatic cover.  The move is being heralded as a message to Russia’s leaders about the “unacceptably high” number of Russian intelligence operatives in the U.S., but it has taken Trump almost 17 months to respond.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement that Treasury is planning to impose additional sanctions “to hold Russian government officials and oligarchs accountable for their destabilizing activities by severing their access to the U.S. financial system.”

The expelled Russians have seven days to leave the United States.