US, allies expel 116 Russian diplomats in spy row

The US and its allies in Europe and elsewhere on Monday expelled 116 Russian diplomats in a coordinated action against Moscow for allegedly using nerve gas against a former Russian double agent Sergie Skripal in England.

Russia warned there would be a tit-for-tat response to those countries “pandering to British authorities” without fully understanding what had happened.

Western allies said they share Britain’s view that only the Kremlin could have been behind the March 4 poisoning incident in Salisbury.

Forty-eight “intelligence officers” attached to Russian diplomatic missions in the US (Russian embassy in Washington pictured)  would be expelled, along with 12 accredited to the UN. Besides expelling 60 alleged “spies”, the US will close the Russian consulate in Seattle over alleged spying at the nearby Kitsap submarine base and Boeing.

Canada expelled four Russian diplomats, calling the nerve agent attack a despicable act. Australia followed suit with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull saying two Russian diplomats have seven days to leave.

Sixteen EU states joined Britain in expelling Russian diplomats following call by European Council to react to Moscow within a common framework.

More steps including further expulsions cannot be ruled out in the coming days, EU President Donald Tusk said.

Among the EU states, France, Germany and Poland expelled four each, Lithuania and Czech Republic three each, Spain, Netherlands, Italy and Denmark two each and Croatia, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Norway, Romania and Sweden one each.

Outside EU, Ukraine expelled 13 Russian diplomats, Albania two and Macedonia one.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it regrets some countries’ decision to eject Russian diplomats adding that Russia will analyse the situation and submit retaliatory measures to Vladimir Putin for consideration.

Asked to comment on the coordinated action by the US and EU, Peskov said it is not their collective action that matters but the fact that they are wrong. From Russia’s point of view, the Salisbury incident has nothing to rely on, he said.

Moscow will take measures on every country expelling Russian diplomats and respond to the closure of Russia’s Consulate General in Seattle,  Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told the Rossiya 1 television’s Sixty Minutes programme on Monday.

Zakharova said NATO is behind the actions of the European Union, using ‘baculine’ discipline and seeking to demonise Russia.

By expelling 12 employees from Russia’s mission at the UN, the US has abused its power as the host of the world body’s headquarters, Moscow’s envoy Vassily Nebenzia said. It an extremely unfriendly step, he said.