Spy poisoning: Western countries unite to expel Russian diplomats

Spy poisoning: Western countries unite to expel Russian diplomats

Sixteen European Union members, the United States, Canada, Ukraine, Norway and Australia are among countries expelling dozens of Russian diplomats in a coordinated response to the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal in Britain, the countries announced.

The US and all EU member states have agreed that it is highly probable that the poisoning carried out in the British city of Salisbury was perpetrated by Russia.

The countries have agreed to take action in solidarity with Britain.

British Prime Minister Theresa May described the response as the biggest collective expulsion of Russian diplomats in history.

More than 100 Russians in total had been expelled from 18 countries by the time May had spoken in parliament in London on Monday, the prime minister said.

Britain itself expelled 23 diplomats earlier this month.

“As a sovereign European democracy, the United Kingdom will stand shoulder to shoulder with the EU and with NATO to face down these threats together,” she said.

Earlier Monday, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Boris Johnson wrote on Twitter that “Russia cannot break international rules with impunity.”

Moscow’s Foreign Ministry condemned the mass expulsion of Russian diplomats from NATO and EU member states and reiterated Russia’s denial that it had any involvement with a chemical weapon attack on British territory.

“This unfriendly act by this group of countries will not go without consequences. We will react,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said the foreign ministry and other Russian authorities were considering what steps to take.

Russian President Vladimir Putin would take the final decision, he added.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said on Facebook that steps would be taken against each country which seeks to expel Russian diplomats.

“Today we learned a lot about politicians from European and American countries. At this time, when all Russians are mourning the victims of the tragedy in Kemerovo, those politicians are putting more emphasis on announcing new hostile actions,” Zakharova asserted.

She added: “We have always shared the grief of American and European people when misfortune came to their door. Today we heard words of condolences, but we witnessed absolutely unjustified aggression. It’s hard to believe and it will be hard to forget.”

The countries taking action included Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Finland, Croatia, the Netherlands, Sweden, Poland and Hungary, among others.

“Additional measures, including further expulsions within the common EU framework, are not to be excluded in the coming days and weeks,” said European Council President Donald Tusk.

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The US has ordered 60 Russian diplomats to leave the country, as well as the closure of Moscow’s consulate in Seattle.

The Russians and their families have seven days to leave the United States, senior White House officials said.

The officials noted that 12 of the 60 Russians had been identified as Russian intelligence officers stationed at the United Nations in New York.

The closure of the consulate in Seattle was ordered because of its proximity to a US naval base.

Germany said it would expel four Russian diplomats.

The decision is not only an act of solidarity with Britain following the chemical attack in Salisbury, but also retribution for a recent cyberattack on the German Foreign Ministry, believed to have been launched out of Russia.

The Russian embassy had been informed of an April 2 deadline for the diplomats to leave, the German Foreign Ministry said, adding that Germany was always open to dialogue with Russia.

France said it would expel four Russian diplomats.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the attack in Salisbury was “a grave threat to our collective security and international law” and was acting “in solidarity with our British partners.”

Italy, one of the EU countries on friendliest terms with Russia and whose response to the Skripal affair has thus far been very cautious, said it would be expelling two Russian diplomats.

Russia’s neighbour Finland said it was to expel one Russian diplomat.

The Netherlands will expel two Russian diplomats in solidarity with Britain, the Dutch government announced.

Romania will also expel one Russian diplomat as a show of solidarity, the foreign ministry in Bucharest said.

Canada was set to take action against seven diplomats, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Ukraine announced it was expelling 13 Russian diplomats.

“Russia has once again confirmed its dismissive attitude not only to the sovereignty of independent states, but also to the value of human life,” said Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in a statement.

On Tuesday, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the expulsion of two Russian “undeclared intelligence officers.”

NATO member Turkey, however, has no plans to take any measures against Russia, said Bekir Bozdag, the deputy prime minister and government spokesman, citing good relations between the two countries at the moment.

Britain has already expelled nearly two dozen Russian diplomats; Russia subsequently retaliated by expelling the same number of British diplomats.

The former spy, Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, are in hospital in critical condition after being found unconscious on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury.

British authorities have said the Skripals were attacked with a Russian-developed nerve toxin identified as Novichok.

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