Trump's expulsion of 60 Russian 'diplomats' is apparently less punitive than it seems

Trump and Vladimir Putin at a summit
(Image credit: Getty Images)

President Trump is starting to take a harder line on Russia, privately angered by Russian President Vladimir Putin's new nuclear missiles and pushed by his White House staff, but he is ambivalent about the pivot and asks aides not to publicly discuss any moves that might anger Moscow, The New York Times and NBC News report. In a recent call with Putin, Trump told the Russian president, "If you want to have an arms race we can do that, but I'll win," and bragged about the $700 billion Pentagon spending authorization he just signed, a White House official tells NBC News; publicly, Trump called it a "very good call."

A similar dynamic appears to be at play with the dozens of embassy personnel the U.S. and Russia each expelled over last month's nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury, England. The U.S. expelled 60 Russian "diplomats" — suspected intelligence operatives — last week in concert with similar moves by Britain, France, Germany, and other NATO allies, and closed Russia's Seattle consulate. Russia responded Thursday by kicking out 60 U.S. embassy personnel and 90 other Western diplomats and shuttering the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg. But Russian state TV quickly quoted a Trump administration official as saying that Russia could send 60 more "diplomats" back to work in the U.S., and the State Department confirmed that caveat to Business Insider and USA Today's Oren Dorell.

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Peter Weber, The Week US

Peter has worked as a news and culture writer and editor at The Week since the site's launch in 2008. He covers politics, world affairs, religion and cultural currents. His journalism career began as a copy editor at a financial newswire and has included editorial positions at The New York Times Magazine, Facts on File, and Oregon State University.