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US & EU Nations Kick Out Russian diplomats, Will Russia Retaliate?

The U.S., Canada, EU nations and some non-EU members announced on Monday that they are going to expel Russian diplomats in the coming weeks following the poisoning incident of an ex-Russian spy and his daughter in the English town of Salisbury. The total number of expelled Russian diplomats from 25 countries is expected to reach 140, according to the latest report from BBC.

Sergei Skripal, an ex-double agent, and his daughter, Yulia, were found unconscious on a park bench in early March after being exposed to a military-grade substance suspected to be a Novichok nerve agent. Both Skripal and his daughter are still being treated in a Salisbury hospital, and have relatively stabilized since the incident.

British Prime Minister Theresa May accused Russia of masterminding the attempted murder of Skripal, who was jailed in 2006 after sharing state secrets to Britain’s MI6 and incarcerated for four years before his release. Russia dismissed the allegation, saying that it had stopped producing nerve agents in 2005, as shown in the official report from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

May has ordered the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats; Britain’s move has gained support from its allies including the U.S. as well as EU member states.

Russia blames Washington for provoking other nations to follow Britain’s suit

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused the Trump administration of pressuring other countries to expel its diplomats.

“Certainly, we will not tolerate such impudence,” Lavrov said.

Lavrov’s office is considering several measures to respond to the mass dismissal of its diplomats. One of the senators, Vladimir Dzhabarov, stated that Russia would retaliate to the administration’s intentions to expel 60 Russian diplomats, 48 at the Russian embassy in Washington and the remaining 12 at the U.N. headquarter in New York.

The Russian embassy in the U.S. used Twitter to create a poll asking which U.S. consulate should be closed. 45 percent of 13,000 respondents preferred the closure of the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg, with 35 percent opting for the Yekaterinburg location.

Lavrov’s deputy Sergei Ryabkov said that the Kremlin would put diplomatic talks with Washington on the agenda, though they are still considering a harsher response to the expulsion.

Is the U.K. hiding evidence in the investigation of Skripal’s poisoning?

A Russian senior official accused Britain of holding and planning to dismantle evidence related to a chemical attack targeting Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter. According to the Russian ambassador Alexander Yakovenko, Britain cannot be trusted to investigate Skripal’s poisoning.

Russia claims Britain has yet to provide any proof that Russia was involved in poisoning the ex-spy. Previously, Russia demanded Britain to bring a sample of the nerve agent used to attack Skripal.

Britain’s rebuttal was that Russia had not given any explanation for how this poisonous gas was even able to both arrive in and be used in the U.K., as stated by  British diplomat Emma Nottingham in a briefing in Moscow.

“Russia has offered us so far no explanation of how this agent came to be used in the United Kingdom and no explanation as to why Russia has an undeclared chemical weapons programme in contravention of international law,” said U.K. diplomat Emma Nottingham.

“We are not obliged to give anything to Great Britain,” Russian diplomat Vladimir Yermakov replied to Nottingham. “It is an attack on Russian citizens on the territory of Great Britain, so why don’t we carry out a joint investigation?”

How diplomatic expulsion affects Russia

The removal can be a big blow to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who just secured his fourth term at the Kremlin. Putin could have never anticipated the world uniting against him after the poisoning incident.

Mark Sleboda, an independent international affairs analyst living in Moscow, stated in a radio interview that the expulsion is merely a political response. Sleboda said he does not mean to underestimate the West’s reaction, but rather to say that the removal will not severely impact Russia.

“Basically, the West is getting rid of some diplomats — and likely, of course, some spies as well, who are functioning as diplomats. And Russia will do the exact same, getting rid of Western spies at various embassies in Russia,” Sleboda stated.

Will Russia retaliate following the expulsion of its employees at the embassy and the U.N.? In December 2016, then-President Barack Obama ordered the removal of 35 Russian diplomats over allegations that Russia hacked and interfered in the 2016 presidential election campaign. Putin didn’t respond at the time.

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Yasmeen Rasidi

Yasmeen is a writer and political science graduate of the National University, Jakarta. She covers a variety of topics for Citizen Truth including the Asia and Pacific region, international conflicts and press freedom issues. Yasmeen had worked for Xinhua Indonesia and GeoStrategist previously. She writes from Jakarta, Indonesia.

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