State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert on Tuesday explained the Trump administration's expulsion this week of 60 Russian intelligence officers acting as diplomats from the United States.
Forty-eight of the 60 operatives were embassy and consulate officials in the U.S., while the other 12 worked at the Russian mission to the United Nations.
The administration also ordered the closure of Russia's consulate in Seattle. President Donald Trump ordered the actions, according to the White House.
The moves were largely meant to punish the Kremlin for a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain, which the U.S. and its European allies have blamed on Moscow.
"Following discussions with members of the Cabinet and our Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, the president personally ordered the action to demonstrate our unbreakable solidarity with the United Kingdom after Russia used a military grade nerve agent to attack a British citizen and his daughter and to impose serious consequences on Russia for its continued violations of international law," Nauert told reporters during a press briefing.
"In addition to the 48 Russian intelligence officers operating under diplomatic cover, they have been declared ‘persona non grata,'" Nauert said. "We have also separately initiated the process of expelling 12 Russian intelligence officers also operating under diplomatic cover from Russia's mission to the United Nations in New York for abusing their privilege of residence under the United Nations Headquarters Agreement."
"Together, these steps constitute the largest single expulsion of Russians ever ordered by the United States," Nauert added. "It is a mark of how seriously we take the threat that Russia poses and an indication of our readiness to impose further costs to respond to this and other reckless and destabilizing actions."
Nauert listed several countries that have also expelled Russians acting as diplomats in response to the nerve agent attack in the United Kingdom.
When asked by reporters about specifics regarding the 60 expelled agents and what they are accused of, Nauert said that it is an "intelligence matter."
Sullivan formally notified the Russian ambassador about the expulsions on Monday.
Nauert called accusations that the United States is using "blackmail" on other countries in order to expel Russian diplomats "ludicrous."
Reporters asked Nauert about any potential response from Russia, but Nauert said that she would not respond to hypothetical scenarios.