Washington, Mar 28 (PTI) The United States wants to improve its relationship with Russia but for that to happen, Moscow must first change its behaviour, the White House has said.

Speaking to reporters at her daily news conference yesterday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Russia needs to understand that there are serious consequences for its “destabilising” actions.

Last Monday, the US expelled 60 Russian diplomats and ordered closure of the country’s consulate in Seattle over the use of nerve agent allegedly by Moscow against a former Russian spy in the United Kingdom.

Over 20 countries joined the UK and the US in taking such actions.

“As we have said before, the US is open to building a better relationship with Russia, but the Russian government must understand that there are serious consequences for its destabilising actions,” Sanders said.

“In response to the president’s leadership, several additional countries and NATO have followed up with similar actions since our announcement,” she said.

As of today, over 25 countries all around the world have expelled 150 Russian intelligence offers hiding under diplomatic cover in their countries, Sanders said.

Sanders said the global response was an indication that Russia must change its behaviour if it wants improved relationship with the US and its allies.

“We’re certainly applying pressure on Russia. We’re certainly encouraging and working with our allies and partners also to do so. And I think you’ve seen an unprecedented number of countries step up and join the US in that effort,” she said.

At the Pentagon, Defence Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters that Russia has the potential to be a partner with Europe, but as of now it has chosen a different path.

“Its fortunes are married to Europe, if it sees its way forward. And I think that, right now, we have to recognise that they’ve chosen to seek a different relationship with the NATO nations. So it is what it is,” said Mattis.

“The expulsion of numerous Russian diplomats around the region, all the way to Australia, Europe, North America — you can see that the nations that have been, perhaps, slow to leave behind the opportunity for a partnership with Russia are now acting on the actions that Mr. Putin has taken,” he said.

Many US lawmakers rallied behind President Donald Trump over his actions against Russia.

Congressman Richard Hudson said he supported the White House’s actions in response to Russia’s “brazen act” in the UK.

“Moscow needs to hear the message loud and clear that such provocative activity will have real consequences, and the US and its friends and allies must stand together in this regard,” said Hudson.

“Putin and his Kremlin regime must stop their efforts to destabilise and bully other countries and live up to Russia’s international obligations and commitments, including under the 1975 Helsinki Final Act,” he said.

Congressman Lou Barletta said the actions were a message from the US to other countries.

“..that the US has no tolerance for Russia’s hostile and threatening actions that have put the security of our nation, and that of our allies, at risk,” said Barletta.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.