Russia announced on Thursday that it will expel 60 US diplomats and an unknown number of envoys from other countries. The move comes as retaliation to the mass expulsion of Russian envoys in western countries over the poisoning of a former Russian agent and his daughter in the United Kingdom. Moscow’s move could escalate the ongoing confrontation between Kremlin and the West.
Russia has denied any involvement in the nerve agent poisoning incident. Kremlin expressed anger toward what it called a well-orchestrated anti-Russia campaign by the US and the UK. Moscow also closed the US consulate in St. Petersburg, the second-largest city in Russia. The March 4th poisoning incident has strained relations between Russia and the West to unprecedented levels. Even countries like Germany that have in the past avoided any confrontation with Russia appear to have taken sides in a collective response against the Kremlin.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres raised concerns over the confrontation saying that the crisis brought back vivid memories of the Cold War in the 1980s. The diplomatic fallout is also putting more pressure on US President Donald Trump who hasn’t yet publicly criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin.
It’s not clear whether Trump has personally expressed his concern to Putin over the nerve agent poisoning in solidarity with the UK, America’s most important ally in Europe. However, when he called Putin to congratulate him on his election victory, Trump didn’t mention the incident. The President also steered away from the matter during a speech in Ohio. The White House later issued a statement regarding the expulsion of 60 envoys saying that it was a further deterioration in US-Russia relations.
There has always been a feeling among Russia’s political elite that Trump wants to take a softer approach in dealing with Kremlin. Speaking to a news agency in Moscow, Russian lawmaker Vladimir Dzhabarov said that Trump has been pressured to expel Russian envoys from the US by unidentified enemies of Russia who are furious because Trump congratulated Putin on his victory.
27 countries have ejected over 150 Russian diplomats. Western officials say that most of the diplomats were in fact Russian spies and their expulsion will hinder Russia’s espionage. Britain’s national security adviser Mark Sedwill called the move a “powerful western message” in response toward what he called an increased aggressive behavior by Moscow.
Relations between Russia and the West are at their worst in decades. Russia’s involvement in the conflict in Syria and Ukraine has attracted strong criticism from the West, especially the 2014 annexation of Crimea. Kremlin has also been accused of cyber-attacks against the West and of a well-orchestrated covert attempt to undermine liberal democracies. Moscow has always denied these claims. The current diplomatic crisis is also not new but it’s the first time that western nations have joined together to stand up against Kremlin.