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UK's Western allies expel many Russian diplomats over Skripal attack

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UK's Western allies expel many Russian diplomats over Skripal attack

REUTERS/Chris Radburn (File)
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Western allies of the United Kingdom, including the US and countries across Europe, have announced the expulsion of dozens of Russian diplomats in a common response to the nerve agent attack in Salisbury.

The most eye-catching move comes from the United States, where the Trump administration is expelling 60 Russian diplomats. The State Department has issued a statement saying the US was holding Russia accountable for its "destabilising behaviour".

In Europe, Ukraine says it will send 13 Russian diplomats home. France, Germany and Poland are each to expel four diplomats each, while several other countries are sending home at least one or more.

European Council President Donald Tusk says 14 EU member states have decided to expel Russian diplomats, and "additional measures including further expulsions" have not been ruled out.

Russia has commented quickly, saying it will react to the Western nations’ decisions and describing the expulsions as an unfriendly and provocative gesture.

Expulsions of Russian diplomats – the details:

  • United States – 60 Russians, including 12 intelligence officers from Russia’s mission to the UN in New York. Closing Russian consulate in Seattle.
  • Canada – expelling four Russians alleged to have worked as spies or interfered in Canadian affairs under diplomatic cover.
  • Ukraine – expelling 13 Russian diplomats
  • France – four diplomats
  • Germany – four diplomats
  • Poland – four diplomats
  • Italy – two diplomats
  • Lithuania – three diplomats
  • Czech Republic – three diplomats
  • Netherlands – two diplomats
  • Denmark – two diplomats
  • Latvia – one diplomat
  • Estonia – one diplomat
  • Finland – one diplomat
  • Sweden - one diplomat
  • Croatia - one diplomat
  • Romania - one diplomat
  • Albania - one diplomat
  • Norway - one diplomat

In Washington, President Donald Trump's administration said Russia's actions prevented the US from having a cooperative relationship with Moscow.

"The president wants to work with the Russians but their actions sometimes don't allow that to happen," said White House spokesman Raj Shah. "The poisoning in the UK that has kind of led to today's announcement was a very brazen action. It was a reckless action."

The British government has welcomed the co-ordinated response by its allies. "We welcome today's actions by our allies, which clearly demonstrate that we all stand shoulder to shoulder in sending the strongest signal to Russia that it cannot continue to flout international law," Prime Minister Theresa May's office said in a statement.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson tweeted to say the "extraordinary international response... stands in history as the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers ever and will help defend our shared security".

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said Moscow's response will be based on the principle of reciprocity and President Vladimir Putin will make the final decision. The Russian Foreign Ministry tweeted to accuse the UK of "exploiting" EU solidarity within the context of Brexit and "forcing" other EU countries to "spoil relations with Russia".

Russia's ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, described Washington's expulsion of 60 Russians and the closure of the Seattle consulate as "counter-productive", predicting that the US would come to see the move as a "grave mistake".

Earlier this month Russia expelled 23 British diplomats, and said it would close the British consulate in St Petersburg and the British Council. This was a tit-for-tat move to the UK government’s expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats and announcement of other measures against Moscow.

Last week the EU recalled its ambassador to Moscow after leaders agreed it was “highly likely” Russia was responsible for the nerve agent attack. The European Council of EU leaders said in a joint declaration that there was “no plausible alternative” to Russian implication.

Moscow, which has always denied responsibility, called the EU accusation “baseless”.

Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia are still in a critical condition after being exposed to a deadly substance in Salisbury, southern England, on March 4.

The mass expulsions of Russian diplomats - and Moscow's likely response - mark a further deterioration in relations between Russia and the West.

Tusk's statement said that the criticism of the Russian government did not prevent Europeans from mourning the victims of the fire in Siberia, which killed at least 64 people at a shopping and cinema complex.