Dozens of countries have ordered the expulsion of more than 100 Russian diplomats as a major diplomatic dispute between Russia and the UK over a spy poisoning case intensifies. The Russia which is accused of poisoning its former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yuliya is under tremendous diplomatic strain. Earlier today, the Russian’s Ambassador to Australia has warned of the ‘Cold War Situation’ if the West continues its joint response to the poisoning case.
The United States Australia, Canada and 23 European countries have already announced on Monday and Tuesday that they would be expelling 121 Russian diplomats over the coming week. The announcements come days after UK expelled 23 Russian officials as it blamed Russia for the alleged attack. But the Russia has denied it so far.
How did it all Start?
On March 4, A former Russian military intelligence officer, Skripal who is accused of spying for UK and his daughter Yuliya were found unconscious on a bench near a shopping centre in Salisbury, 120km southwest of Britain’s capital, London. He was imprisoned in 2006 and later exchanged for Russian citizens accused of espionage in the US.
Tensions in UK-Russian relations escalated after British Prime Minister Theresa May alleged that it was “highly likely” Russia was behind the attempted assassination. The Russia was offered a deadline till May 13 to explain how a Soviet-era nerve agent ended up in Salisbury, southern England?
“They have treated the use of a military-grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance,” Theresa May said in parliament, before ordering the expulsion of the Russian diplomats.
What was response from Russia?
Russia’s foreign ministry has refuted the allegations by the UK, calling them politically motivated and “a circus show”.
President Putin has said the UK should investigate what happened before levelling accusations at Russia. He stated: “You first get to the bottom of things over there, and after that, we can discuss it,”
In a retaliatory move, Moscow also ordered the expulsion of 23 British diplomats and closed the British consulate in St Petersburg and the British Council cultural body.
The Russian ambassador to the US has also expressed his concern over Washington’s decision to expel Russians.
“What the United States of America is doing today, they are destroying what little remained of US-Russian ties,” Anatoly Antonov said.
“I will add that all the responsibility of ruining Russian-American relations is on the US.”
What was response from other countries?
In solidarity with the UK, so far, 23 European countries – 18 European Union member states and five non-EU nations – have announced that they will be expelling 55 Russian diplomats over the coming week.
The EU states include: France (4), Poland (4), Germany (4), Lithuania (3), Czech Republic (3), Denmark (2), Italy (2), Spain (2), Netherlands (2), Estonia (1), Latvia (1), Sweden (1), Finland (1), Romania (1), Croatia (1), Hungary (1), Ireland (1) and Belgium (1).
The Non-EU European states are: Ukraine (13), Moldova (3), Albania (2), Norway (1) and Macedonia (1).
Meanwhile, NATO allies – US and Canada – have also decided to take incentives.
On Monday, US President Trump ordered expulsion of 60 Russians, including 12 intelligence officers from Russia’s mission to UN headquarters in New York followed by closure of Russian consulate in Seattle.
The response was also Canada is expelling 4 Russians alleged to have worked as spies or interfered in Canadian affairs under diplomatic cover.
NATO has also joined the chorus of countries penalizing Russia.
Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday that the organization will reduce the size of Russia’s NATO mission from 30 to 20 Diplomats.
What’s next Now?
On March 19, representatives of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), a UN body, collected samples of the Novichok nerve agent used Skripal’s poisoning. Their results are expected to be released in a week.
There are concerns the diplomatic crisis could worsen if the results of the OPCW investigation shows a Russian link.
What remains unclear so far after 2 weeks is: where and how the nerve agent was launched and how the relationships go further between the West and the Russian Federation. Under given circumstances, the threat of a new ‘Cold War Situation’ is inevitable.
Independent Research Analyst (Foreign policy & Int. Security)
& Diplomatic Correspondent for Overseas Tribune