06:11 GMT01 April 2020
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    The US expelled dozens of Russian diplomats and slapped Moscow with more sanctions after accusing Russia's intelligence services of involvement in the alleged 'nerve agent attack' against ex-spy Sergei Skripal in the southern English town of Salisbury. Moscow has vehemently denied any involvement in the case.

    CIA Director Gina Haspel played an instrumental role in convincing President Trump to agree to expel Russian diplomats and close the Russian consulates on the West Coast following the Skripal poisoning, The New York Times has reported, citing sources familiar with her presentations.

    Speaking to the newspaper, people familiar with Haspel's meeting with Trump in March 2018 regarding the Skripal case said that the president was initially skeptical of London's request that the US join the UK in expelling Russian diplomatic workers, writing the poisoning off as "distasteful but within the bounds of espionage", according to NYT's paraphrasing.

    Haspel, however, worked diligently to convince Trump, telling him that the "strong option" would be to expel 60 Russian diplomats, and proceeding to explain to the president that Skripal and his daughter weren't the only victims of the alleged 'Russian attack'.

    Haspel was said to have used images meant to evoke emotions, including pictures supplied by UK authorities of children sickened by the nerve agent and photos of ducks who died due to the Russian intelligence operatives' alleged 'sloppy work'.

    Trump reportedly "fixated" on the images, and agreed at the end of the briefing to the "strong" position, which led to the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats and the closure of the Russian consulates in San Francisco and Seattle.

    The US later followed the UK and the European Union with several rounds of sanctions over the Skripal incident, with the first batch taking effect in August and more announced in late December. Last month, Bloomberg reported that another new package of restrictions was awaiting approval from the White House.

    On 4 March 2018, former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia collapsed outside a shopping centre in Salisbury, southern England. The incident sparked an international incident after London accused Moscow of poisoning the Skripals with a military-grade nerve agent. Moscow vehemently denied the claims, stressing that it has been denied access to the investigation into the incident, and that it has not been able to speak to the Skripals, who are Russian nationals.

    Just over a week after the Skripal incident, Prime Minister Theresa May announced the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats and the freezing of all high-level bilateral contacts. The UK's allies followed suit, leading to the expulsion of over 150 Russian diplomats total. Moscow mirrored the expulsions, with dozens of British, American and European diplomats forced to leave Russia.

    UK authorities say that both Sergei and Yulia Skripal have recovered from the poisoning and remain hidden 'at an undisclosed location'. Russian diplomats in the UK say they have not been seen since last spring, with their true fate remaining unknown.


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    Police Chief Says Unaware of Skripal's Residency in Salisbury Prior to Poisoning
    Skripal Case Part of Strategy to Divert UK Public Attention From Brexit - Moscow
    Secrecy Around Skripal Case Shows It Was UK 'Anti-Russian Set-Up' - Embassy
    Skripal's Niece Describes Year After Sergei's Poisoning as Full of Suffering
    reports, influence, meeting, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Sergei Skripal, Gina Haspel, Donald Trump, United States
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