It started with the UK, now the US, a host of European countries, and other allies such as Australia and Canada, are removing Russian diplomats and intelligence officers from their countries.
The Trump administration has ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian intelligence officers posing as diplomats in New York and Washington, as well as the closure of the Russian Consulate in Seattle, in its first move since the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England.
According to the Washington Post, 12 Russian diplomats at the United Nations in New York and 48 at the Russian Embassy in Washington will be sent home, as they are believed to be engaged in covert intelligence operations that undermine national security.
“The United States takes this action – in conjunction with our NATO allies and partners around the world – in response to Russia’s use of a military-grade chemical weapon on the soil of the United Kingdom, the latest in its ongoing pattern of destabilising activities around the world,” the White House said in a statement.
“This is the largest expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in United States history,” said US Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman.
The Russian Consulate in Seattle will also be shut down, with the government giving an April 2 deadline. It is considered a key Russian outpost for intelligence because of its close proximity (less than 30 miles) to naval base Kitsap-Bangor.
It is understood the submarine base is home to the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons in the country.
Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, responded by saying: “What the United States of America do today is they are destroying the little that is left from the Russian-American relations.”
Maria Zaharova, Russian foreign ministry spokesperson, added to Antonov’s statement, telling state TV channel Rossia1 that Russia will respond in kind to every country involved in the expulsions.
Indeed, the Russian Embassy in the US official Twitter account, started a poll to decided which US embassy should be shut down in Russia in retaliation.
— Russia in USA 🇷🇺 (@RusEmbUSA) March 26, 2018
Zaharova also reiterated that Russia maintains it was actually the US and UK that carried out the nerve agent attack against the Skripals on March 4.
Allies unite against Russia
A majority of the member states of the European Union (EU) have also agreed to enforce measures against Russia.
According to Al Jazeera, 16 EU nations will join the UK and US in expelling Russian diplomats.
France, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Sweden, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Germany, Finland, Romania, and Croatia, are those in support. They are expected to send a total of 33 Russian officers packing.
In addition, non-EU nations Norway and Albania will deport one and two diplomats respectively, and Ukraine (which borders Russia) will expel 13 diplomats.
Canada is not holding back either, labelling the attack “despicable, heinous and reckless”, as foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, revealed four Russian diplomats would be expelled for using “their diplomatic status to undermine Canada’s security or interfere in our democracy”.
And in just the last hour, Australia has announced it will follow suit and kick out two Russian diplomats believed to be undeclared spies.
That means more than 130 Russian intelligence officers will be sent back to Moscow in total.
UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson hailed the forceful response from allies, tweeting: “Today’s extraordinary international response by our allies stands in history as the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers ever.”
Today’s extraordinary international response by our allies stands in history as the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers ever & will help defend our shared security. Russia cannot break international rules with impunity
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) March 26, 2018
Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia remain in critical condition.