By Leah Cerilli
The United States and other Western allies are collectively expelling over 100 Russian diplomats in response to Russia’s alleged nerve agent attack on British soil.
On March 4, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench near a shopping center in Salisbury, England. Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence colonel believed to have passed the identities of Russian secret agents to the UK’s MI6. He was arrested in 2006 and part of a Russia-Britain spy swap in 2010. Since then, he had been living in refuge in the UK. Skripal’s family repeatedly denied he was a British spy.
Investigators concluded that a military-grade nerve agent known as Novichok. Novichok agents were developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s. Russia has denied the allegations and insisted that development work on Soviet-era nerve agents stopped in 1992, and that existing stockpiles were destroyed in 2017.On March 19, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a UN body, collected samples of the agent used in the attack, with results expected in about a week.
British Prime Minister Theresa May stated it was “highly likely” Russia was behind the attempted assassination, and gave Russia a deadline of May 13 to explain how the Soviet-era agent ended up in Salisbury. The UK then expelled 23 Russian diplomats. May also withdrew an invitation to Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, to visit the UK. UK government ministers and members of the royal family will not attend the World Cup in Russia.
In a coordinated response on March 27, numerous nations and groups expelled Russian diplomats as a show of support and solidarity for the UK. The United States said it would expel 60 diplomats, giving the envoys and their families one week to leave the US. This cuts the presence of Russian diplomats in the US by 13%. The US has also stated it will close the Russian consulate in Seattle, due to its proximity to Naval Base Kitsap, an American naval base housing a fleet of nuclear powered, ballistic missile-carrying submarines. The White House also cited its proximity to defense contractor Boeing, and U.S. intelligence officials claimed Seattle was a hub of Russian cyber espionage. These sanctions come a week after U.S. President Donald Trump controversially congratulated Russian President Vladimir Putin on winning an election widely regarded as staged.
Canada, Ukraine, and 18 European Union nations joined the US in expelling their Russian diplomats. This strong reaction in support of the UK is notable from the EU, as the two have been involved in Brexit-related tensions.
The Russian government has assured a response to the mass expulsion, stating that Putin will make the final decision. Russia did take to Twitter to mock the diplomatic sanctions and claim that the West is acting hypocritically. The Russian Embassy in Washington tweeted a pole asking which U.S. consulate should close in response.