Russia Retaliates For British Retaliation, Kicking 23 British Diplomats Out

Not unexpectedly, Russia has retaliated for Great Britain's retaliation for Russia's apparent assassination attempt on British history.

Earlier this month, former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were stricken with an illness of some kind in the English city of Salisbury after returning from a trip abroad. Within days, British Prime Minister Theresa May accused Russia of having poisoned Skripal and his daughter and called them out for staging an attempted assassination on British soil. The United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, also stated openly that it was “likely” that the attack against Skripal was directly ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin himself. Within days after that, May announced retaliatory measures by kicking 23 Russians living in the United Kingdom under diplomatic passports out of the country, hinting that this may not be the only step that the United Kingdom takes. May also convened the North Atlantic Council. Now, Russia has announced its own retaliation, kicking 23 British diplomats out of the country:

MOSCOW — Russia on Saturday ordered 23 British diplomats to leave the country within a week, escalating a diplomatic crisis after a former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned with a military grade nerve agent on British soil.

The order came days after Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain expelled the same number of Russian diplomats and called off high-level contacts between the two governments.

The Russians also ordered the closing of the British Council, a cultural and educational organization, in Russia, and revoked permission for the British consulate general in St. Petersburg.

The announcement came after the British ambassador, Laurie Bristow, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Moscow on Saturday morning.

In a statement, the Foreign Ministry cast Russia as the aggrieved party, asserting that Russia was acting “in response to the unfounded accusation against the Russian Federation for what happened in Salisbury.”

It added, “The British side is warned that, in the case of further actions of an unfriendly character toward Russia, the Russian side reserves the right to take other answering measures.”

The Kremlin delayed its response for three days until a day before national elections on Sunday, for which Mr. Putin has campaigned while casting himself as a defender of Russia against Western aggression.

The spy, Sergei V. Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, were found unresponsive on a park bench in the cathedral city of Salisbury, England, after being attacked on March 4. British officials said the lethal nerve agent, Novichok, had been created in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and ’80s.

The Kremlin has flatly denied any involvement in the attack, even as state television announcers have pointedly referred to the poisoning as a warning to traitors.

The case has roiled relations between the two countries, with Britain announcing that in addition to other measures, no ministers or members of the royal family would attend the World Cup hosted by Russia this summer.

Mr. Bristow, the British ambassador, told journalists in Moscow on Saturday, “We will always do what is necessary to defend ourselves, our allies and our values against an attack of this sort.”

The diplomatic crisis, he added, “has arisen as a result of an appalling attack in the United Kingdom, the attempted murder of two people using a chemical weapon developed in Russia and not declared by Russia” with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, as is required by treaty.

It added, “The British side is warned that, in the case of further actions of an unfriendly character toward Russia, the Russian side reserves the right to take other answering measures.”

The Kremlin delayed its response for three days until a day before national elections on Sunday, for which Mr. Putin has campaigned while casting himself as a defender of Russia against Western aggression.

The spy, Sergei V. Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, were found unresponsive on a park bench in the cathedral city of Salisbury, England, after being attacked on March 4. British officials said the lethal nerve agent, Novichok, had been created in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and ’80s.

The Kremlin has flatly denied any involvement in the attack, even as state television announcers have pointedly referred to the poisoning as a warning to traitors.

The case has roiled relations between the two countries, with Britain announcing that in addition to other measures, no ministers or members of the royal family would attend the World Cup hosted by Russia this summer.

Mr. Bristow, the British ambassador, told journalists in Moscow on Saturday, “We will always do what is necessary to defend ourselves, our allies and our values against an attack of this sort.”

The diplomatic crisis, he added, “has arisen as a result of an appalling attack in the United Kingdom, the attempted murder of two people using a chemical weapon developed in Russia and not declared by Russia” with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, as is required by treaty.

This kind of tit-for-tat retaliation is something that is, of course, quite common and dates back to the Cold War era. The number of cases where one nation would respond to something provocative that was done by another by expelling diplomats or closing diplomatic facilities other than the actual embassy and the other nation would respond in kind is too innumerable to list in detail. One of the most recent such incidents came in December 2016 when the Obama Administration expelled 35 Russian diplomats in retaliation for Russia’s attempt to interfere in the 2016 election. Several days later, the Russians retaliated by forcing the United States to reduce its diplomatic presence in Russia to the same level of Russia’s in the United States, meaning that nearly 700 positions had to be eliminated at the embassy in Moscow and consulates in other cities, although this included support staff. Similarly, when the Brits responded to the 2010 death of former Russian Security Service officer Alexander Litvinenko, who was killed when the radioactive element polonium-210 was put into his tea, by expelling four Russian diplomats, the Russians responded by expelling four British diplomats. This tit-for-tat thing, then, follows a pattern that has been in existence for a long time and something that May and her advisers were no doubt well aware of when the British expulsions were announced.

Now, the question is where the dispute between the United Kingdom and Russia goes from here, and just how strongly the United States stands beside its most important ally. As things stand, it seems clear that the expulsion of a half-dozen diplomats isn’t going to stop Vladimir Putin from his current course of action. Even as the Brits were contemplating this week how to respond to what seems to be a clear example of a Russian assassination attempt, for example, British police announced that the death of Nikolai Glushkov, and ex-pat Russian who had ties to Russian oligarchs close to Putin and to other Russian nationals who have died under mysterious circumstances in the U.K. over the years, was being investigated as a murder although there has not been a formal announcement as to cause of death in Glushkov’s case. Assuming that there is something other than natural causes involved in Glushkov’s death, the situation is destined to become more serious and extend far beyond the expulsion of more diplomats or other similar sanctions.

As for the response of the United States, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley was particularly harsh in her condemnation of Russia in the Security Council meeting that was called at the request of the United Kingdom to discuss the Skripal incident, as was outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.Of course, Tillerson’s comments were made just days before he was fired, and in the meantime, the Trump Administration’s own rhetoric regarding the apparent attack on Skripal and his daughter on British soil has been rather muted and there hasn’t been any direct response from the President himself. Additionally, it’s unclear what, if anything, will come out of Prime Minister May’s call to convene the North Atlantic Council in response to the Skripal attack.

How we respond to all of this is important, though, because it clearly seems as though Putin feels as though he’s free to do whatever he wants with little fear of substantive action on the part of the United States or even strong condemnation from the President of the United States. It’s a pattern that didn’t start with President Trump, of course, since once can trace it to the actions that Russia took against Ukraine beginning shortly after the 2014 Winter Olympics, including not only the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula but also directly aiding and intervening to help the pro-Russian separatists who have effectively declared war on the Ukrainian government in the eastern half of the nation. That was followed not very long after with Russia’s decision to send military forces to assist the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria under the guise of fighting against ISIS. We’ve seen it in the clear evidence of Russian efforts to interfere in elections in the United States, France, and elsewhere around the world. In many ways, Putin is being far more provocative that the Soviet Union was during the height of the Cold War. Where and how it ends is anyone’s guess, but it’s clear that we’re just at the beginning.

FILED UNDER: Europe, National Security, Russia, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. george says:

    This kind of tit-for-tat retaliation is something that is, of course, quite common and dates back to the Cold War era.

    I suspect it goes back much further than that. In fact, I wonder if there was ever a time when something like that wasn’t automatic?




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  2. Gustopher says:

    I want to congratulate Theresa May for having the careful, considered thought process of not responding to this by expelling 23 more Russian diplomats within five minutes of hearing of this. Or 24.

    I know that would be my response.




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  3. Kathy says:

    @Gustopher:
    Dind’t Trump thank the Russians for expelling US diplomats?




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