Donald Trump was driven by embarrassment to order largest expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in US history, according to White House sources.
The President joined his European allies in expelling dozens of Russian diplomats in a co-ordinated response to the poisoning of a former Russian spy in the UK.
Insiders said it was an attempt by the White House to show solidarity with the UK after criticism of Trump’s failure to take a hard line against the Kremlin.
In a phone call last week with Vladimir Putin, he failed to mention the attack in Salisbury, but instead congratulated Putin on his re-election, against the advice of his officials.
Alongside the allegations of election interference two years ago, the Kremlin is accused of spying and cyber-attacks targeting vital infrastructure in the US.
The UK, Germany, France, Ukraine, Canada and various European countries have also expelled envoys.
Russia vowed to retaliate to the “provocative gesture” and continued to deny any role in the nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.
The US ordered 60 envoys to leave, and diplomats are also being expelled from 14 EU countries.
Theresa May said the show of solidarity gave a strong message. A No 10 statement said: “We welcome today’s actions by our allies, which clearly demonstrate that we all stand shoulder to shoulder in sending the strongest signal to Russia that it cannot continue to flout international law. ”
It has become the most serious diplomatic crisis between Russia and the West since Moscow’s seizure of Crimea.
The collective expulsions from the US and 14 EU member states is a remarkable show of solidarity with Britain, even more so because it comes at a time when UK-EU relations are strained due to the Brexit negotiations.
The US state department said in a statement: “On March 4, Russia used a military-grade nerve agent to attempt to murder a British citizen and his daughter in Salisbury. This attack on our Ally the United Kingdom put countless innocent lives at risk and resulted in serious injury to three people, including a police officer.”
It called the attack an “outrageous violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and breach of international law”.
The US is expelling 48 envoys at the Russian embassy in Washington and 12 more at the UN in New York. It will also order the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle.