In retaliation to the response from Western nations to the nerve agent attack incident, Russia has expelled 59 diplomats from 23 countries. This is in addition to 60 US diplomats that Russia expelled a day earlier. Experts have compared the current ties between Russia and western nations to that of the Cold War.
On March 2017, Sergei Viktorovich Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer turned spy for Britain′s intelligence services; and his daughter were found unconscious after falling victims to a poison attack. It was later revealed that they were attacked by a nerve agent. Skripal and his daughter were hospitalized while critically ill and three police officers who responded to the crime scene also required treatment for breathing difficulties.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May has stated that the spy had been attacked by a “military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia” and called it an “indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom”, as well as a “brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil”. She has called for a “long term response” to the threat posed by Russia. The UK has called for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to investigate the issue.
Since the incident, over 20 Western allies have expelled more than 100 Russian diplomats from their soil. This move was led by the UK, who also reportedly shared “unprecedented degrees of intelligence” about the attack with allies. UK Prime Minister May stated that this was “a message that we will not tolerate Russia’s continued attempts to flout international law and undermine our values.” The move has been labelled a “diplomatic coup”.
12 of the 60 diplomats asked to leave the US were intelligence operatives who “abused their privilege of residence in the United States,” according to the State Department. It has been observed that the expulsion could therefore have a negative impact on Russian intelligence operations.
At the time, Russian authorities called the Western response “provocative”, and stated that it was “a continuation of… confrontational policy to escalate the situation.” As the crisis escalates, Russia has announced that it will be expelling 59 diplomats from 23 countries from its soil. A day prior to that, the nation had expelled 60 US diplomats in retaliation to the US’s response to the attacks.
“It’s regrettable but in light of Russia’s previous behaviour, we anticipated a response,” said a spokesperson for the UK Foreign Office (FCO). “However, this doesn’t change the facts of the matter. The attempted assassination of two people on British soil, for which there is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian state was culpable.” The initial victims, Skripal and his daughter Yulia are alive. Reports have stated that Yulia has made a surprising recovery and was talking. Her father is said to be in a critical yet stable condition.
Our assessment is that ties between western democracies and Russia are currently at an all time low. Western countries have been expressing their concern over Russia and President Putin in the recent years. In 2017, UK was among the countries that warned Russia not to interfere in its elections. As we stated earlier, it is most unlikely President Putin expected a united response from these nations and it could be years before the rift is mended.
Read more: Russia’s response