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Europe, US, Canada expel Russian diplomats

March 26, 2018

The German Foreign Ministry has said it will dismiss four Moscow diplomats over the alleged poisoning of a former Russian spy. Fifteen other EU states, along with other Western countries, have announced similar moves.

Russland Die Basilius-Kathedrale ist durch ein Tor am Roten Platz im Zentrum von Moskau zu sehen
Image: Reuters/File Photo/M. Zmeyer

Germany announced Monday it is expelling four Russian diplomats over the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.

Russia has "yet to provide an explanation over the Salisbury attack," the Foreign Ministry tweeted. "We also want to show a sign of solidarity with the UK."

The government's move was hailed even by the opposition, with Green Party lawmaker Robert Habeck saying that because "Russia has opposed attempts to explain what happened in Salisbury, it is up to Putin to de-escalate the situation and to participate in the investigation of the crime."

But the Green Party foreign policy expert Jürgen Trittin countered this, telling DW it would have been better to wait for the report from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on whether Russia was behind the attack.

"I do not know whether one is well advised to embark on a policy of escalation and reciprocal upswing on the basis of plausibilities," Trittin said.

"If this is continued, then we will very quickly find ourselves in a Cold War 2.0 situation, and I do not think this is wise. For everything we want from Russia and where we want Russia to change its behavior — be it Syria or the stationing of medium-range missiles — a new Cold War is not helpful, but possibly even harmful."

Read more: "Evidence for culpability points to the Russian state"  

Expelled in droves

Fifteen other EU countries, along with other Western states, have said they would be taking similar measures, after Britain kicked out 23 Russian diplomats earlier this month.

"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.

France, Poland and Canada have said that, like Germany, they plan to expel four diplomats; the Czech Republic and Lithuania three; Italy, Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands two; and Estonia, Latvia, Sweden, Romania, Croatia, Albania and Hungary one.

On Tuesday, Australia also expelled two Russian diplomats in response to the poisoning.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that Kyiv would expel 13, adding that Russia had demonstrated "its dismissive attitude not only to the sovereignty of independent states, but also to the value of human life."

Read more: Spy assassinations — The top 5 deadly poisons

The US swiftly followed suit by expelling 60 Russian diplomats from within its borders, and announced the closure of Moscow's consulate in Seattle.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the move was in response to "Russia's use of a military-grade chemical weapon on the soil of the United Kingdom." She added that the decision will hinder "Russia's ability to spy on Americans and to conduct covert operations that threaten America's national security."

Austria, however, was one of the few Western countries to take a clear stance against recalling diplomats. "We want to be bridge builders," said Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, "and keep the channels of communication to Russia open."

Moscow promises retaliation

Anatoly Antonov, Russia's ambassador to the US, called the move "wrongful" and warned it would considerably damage what was left of US-Russian ties.

"The reciprocity principle will work in every such case," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov in response, according to state news agency TASS. Peskov added that President Vladimir Putin would have the final say on Russia's next move.

Later, a statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry accused "Britain's allies" of "blindly following the principle of Euro-Atlantic unity to the detriment of common sense, the norms of civilized international dialogue and the principles of international law."

British Prime Minister Theresa May told Parliament that the expulsions "sent a message that we will not continue to allow Russia to flaunt international law and undermine our values."

The UK has already ordered 23 Russian diplomats to leave the country, prompting a retaliatory dismissal of British diplomatic staff by Moscow. The EU has also recalled its ambassador to Russia.

Read more: UK-Russia relations — Crisis or melodrama?

Theresa May welcomes decision to expel Russian diplomats

On March 4, Sergei and Yulia Skripal were found extremely ill on a park bench in Salisbury, England, where Skripal has been living since he was freed from Russian custody in a 2010 "spy swap" with the US. The two remain critically ill in a local hospital.

Moscow has consistently denied playing a role in the poisoning despite mounting evidence to the contrary, a position UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson described to DW as "increasingly bizarre."

es/cmk (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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