Washington • U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman said Monday that a better relationship between the United States and Russia is possible but only if Russia “chooses to become a more responsible partner.”
The message, which Huntsman recorded in a video released by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, comes after the Trump administration ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian intelligence and diplomatic officers and the closure of the country’s consulate in Seattle.
“The bonds between our people remain strong,” Huntsman, a former Utah governor, said in the video. “The United States is ready to cooperate and forge a better relationship between our two countries. But that will only be possible when Russia chooses to become a more responsible partner.”
The Trump administration acted in cooperation with the European Union, where 14 of its countries also expelled Russian diplomats almost simultaneously Monday in response to a March 4 nerve-gas attack in England that critically injured a former Russian spy and his daughter. The U.S. and British governments as well as the E.U. blamed the attack squarely on Russia.
“This is the largest expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in the United States’ history,” Huntsman said Monday, calling it a direct result of a “military grade, chemical weapon attack” by Russia and tying it to a “pattern of destabilizing activities around the world” by the country.
“Today’s actions make the United States a safer place by limiting the ability of Russia to spy on Americans and conduct covert activities that threaten America’s national security,” the ambassador said.
Huntsman, who took on the position of the top U.S. envoy to Russia amid heightening tensions between the two countries, echoed what the Trump administration said after announcing the sanctions for Russia’s action in England.
“With these steps, the United States and our allies and partners make clear to Russia that its actions have consequences,” a senior administration official told reporters Monday. “The United States stands ready to cooperate to build a better relationship with Russia, but this can only happen with a change in the Russian government’s behavior.”
“This was a reckless attempt by the government to murder a British citizen and his daughter on British soil with a military-grade nerve agent,” said another senior administration official. “It cannot go unanswered.”
President Donald Trump has repeatedly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin as a strong leader and recently congratulated him on winning re-election. But the administration has continued sanctions against the country leveled by then-President Barack Obama after the 2016 election, which U.S. intelligence services said was the target of misinformation and manipulation efforts by Russia with the aim of helping elect Trump.
Trump has denied that as well as any collusion between his team and Russian operatives. Special counsel Robert Mueller is still investigating the matter.
A spokesman for Putin said Monday that Russian officials were reviewing the U.S sanctions and would recommend “retaliatory measures.”
“We already stated and reconfirm that Russia has never had any relation to this case,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to The Washington Post. “We will be guided by the reciprocity principle.”