It’s starting to get lonely for Moscow. The number of nations expelling Russian diplomats has reached nearly two dozen, including Australia. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called the use of the nerve agent Novichok to assassinate swapped spy Sergei Skripal “an act of chemical warfare” and “a disgraceful assault on the sovereignty of the United Kingdom”:
Australia joins over 20 other nations by expelling Russian diplomats in response to UK nerve agent attack, Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull announces. “This was a fundamental breach of international law.” https://t.co/B8vAmbS7mj pic.twitter.com/dKnnNTsJzm
— ABC News (@ABC) March 27, 2018
Australia will expel two Russian diplomats, which has been the norm for most of the countries taking action against the Vladimir Putin regime. The most dramatic moves came from the UK itself (23 diplomats expelled) and the US (60 diplomats), who conducted the swap that got Skripal out of a Russian prison in the first place. Ukraine has expelled 13 Russian diplomats, but the others taking action have limited expulsions to four or fewer diplomats. (Canada has expelled four diplomats, but has also denied a previous request from Russia to expand their total allowed contingent by three more, for a total of seven positions eliminated.)
ABC’s Terry Moran counts 23 nations imposing diplomatic sanctions after the Skripal assassination attempt:
In an unprecedented move, 23 countries around the world have expelled more than 130 Russian diplomats over poisoning of ex-spy. @TerryMoran has the story: https://t.co/E8cDQNT2Ec pic.twitter.com/biNyqRl9DV
— Good Morning America (@GMA) March 27, 2018
Australia’s action marks one significant development; it’s the first retaliation against the Russians to take place outside the EU and North America. Australia’s political and cultural connections to the Anglosphere hardly need explanation, but they’re still far enough removed from European politics to have raised no eyebrows in sitting out this scrap. That could make it more difficult for Putin to blow this off as a Euro-American smear aimed at a containment strategy to keep Russians down, as Putin will no doubt sell his sudden diplomatic isolation. He’ll still try to sell it that way, but it’s not going to be quite as easy to explain why Russians are getting the boot in Australia.
Turnbull wants the UN Security Council to take up the issue of Russian use of WMD in the UK. Russia has a UNSC veto so any effort there is doomed from the start, but it’s worth forcing them to use the veto to make the point. Or will Putin get Xi Jinping to use China’s veto to rescue him from that diplomatic embarrassment?
Update: Can I call ’em or can I call ’em?
Moscow on Tuesday charged Washington had put “colossal pressure” on allies to expel scores of Russian diplomats, and vowed to retaliate.
“This is the result of colossal pressure, colossal blackmail which is the main instrument of Washington on the international arena,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Uzbekistan.
“We’ll respond, have no doubt! No one wants to put up with such loutish behaviour and we won’t.”
Loutish, like using a nerve agent to kill a former turncoat in another sovereign nation? Asking for a friend …