Russian retaliation over poisoning expulsions, NZ excluded

Twenty nine countries expelled Russian diplomats over the nerve gas poisoning in Salisbury, England – with the notable exception of New Zealand. Russia threatened retaliation against those countries who joined the UK measures, and they have followed through.

BBC: Spy poisoning: Russia escalates spy row with new expulsions

Russia has announced further measures against UK diplomats while at the same time declaring tit-for-tat expulsions of officials from 23 other countries.

It has told the British ambassador to cut staffing to the size of the Russian mission in the UK.

Moscow has rejected UK accusations that it is behind the nerve agent attack on an ex-spy and his daughter in the UK.

However, some 150 Russians have since been expelled by mainly Western countries.

Russia initially hit back at the UK, but then announced 60 US expulsions. On Friday it called in a string of foreign ambassadors with news that their own countries’ measures were being matched.

British diplomats left Moscow a week ago, but ambassador Laurie Bristow was summoned back to the foreign ministry for additional punishment.

It’s not immediately obvious what it means in practice, but it’s clear that Russia sees Britain as the ringleader of an international conspiracy which resulted in the biggest mass expulsion of Russian diplomats in history.

A number of countries backed the UK with their own expulsions, and Russia is also retaliating against them.

Twenty-nine countries have expelled 145 Russian officials in solidarity with the UK – and Nato has also ordered 10 Russians out of its mission in Belgium.

The US expelled the largest single number – 60 diplomats – and closed the Russian consulate general in Seattle.

Russia reciprocated on Thursday declaring 58 US diplomats in Moscow and two in the city of Yekaterinburg to be “personae non gratae”. It also announced the closure of the US consulate in St Petersburg.

On Friday, ambassadors from Albania, Australia, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Spain, Sweden and Ukraine were told to send home staff from their missions – corresponding to the same number of Russians their countries had expelled.

A statement by the Russian foreign ministry also said that Russia “reserves the right to take retaliatory measures” against Belgium, Hungary, Georgia and Montenegro – countries that had joined the co-ordinated action against Russia “at the last moment”.

But New Zealand has remained on the sidelines. The Press writes on The Government’s Russian dilemma

At last count, 26 countries have expelled Russian diplomats and intelligence agents in a remarkable response to the nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal​ and his daughter Yulia.

The BBC report said that 29 countries had acted against Russia.

The leaders of the UK, the USA, Germany and France made a rare joint statement that stressed there is no plausible alternative to Russia being responsible for the attack on British soil. They described a wider pattern of “irresponsible behaviour”. Russia’s denials have not been taken seriously.

But so far, New Zealand has not joined the other 26 countries in solidarity, although all four of our Five Eyes partners – the UK, the US, Canada and Australia – have led or followed in the mass expulsion of agents and diplomats.

The Government has been criticised at home over it’s vague and slow responses, and ridiculed abroad for claiming there were no spies here that could be expelled.

There is another way to view the reluctance of the Ardern Government to jump on the anti-Russia bandwagon and that is to see it in a proud tradition of New Zealand independence that would be recognisable to previous Labour prime ministers such as Norman Kirk, David Lange and Helen Clark. There is a streak in the New Zealand psyche that resists being anyone’s puppet.

But it has raised questions about the pro-Russian inclinations of Winston Peters in particular.

It is more likely that the Ardern Government’s motivations are submerged in murkier politics as far as the wider public is concerned.

The public is more likely to share the UK’s worries about the Vladimir Putin regime and to recognise the symbolic value of expulsion.

Some may even see more cynical thinking behind our neutral stance. Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters has been keen to reopen negotiations with Russia for the Free Trade Agreement that was scuppered after the Ukrainian crisis in 2014. Even this month, Peters seemed unwilling to condemn Russia after news emerged of the Skripal poisoning. He also doubted Russian involvement in the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 and US election meddling.

Ardern has appeared to have difficulty dealing with balancing the request for solidarity with allied countries and the Russian leaning of Peters.

Newsroom: Ardern finally acts to ban Russian spies

Facing accusations of being soft and becoming isolated on Russia, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has moved to take some concrete action in solidarity with New Zealand’s allies. Ardern announced late on Thursday that New Zealand would impose travel restrictions on individuals expelled by other countries after a recent nerve agent attack in Britain.

The Opposition questioned why New Zealand appeared soft on Russia and was not joining with its allies in a more concrete condemnation of Russia.

Concerns about New Zealand’s stance have grown after Foreign Minister Winston Peters refused earlier this month to accept that Russia had been involved in the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine, despite internationally accredited reports to that affect. Peters has also advocated further trade negotiations with Russia, forcing his Prime Minister to say any talks were suspended indefinitely because of the nerve agent attack.

Peters again muddied the waters on Thursday in Parliament when he was asked whether Russia was responsible for the attack, appearing not to back Britain’s more robust assessment.

The Government faced increased scrutiny as the Prime Minister’s assertion the Government could not find any spies in New Zealand was ridiculed in the international media.

Former KGB agent Boris Karpichkov told Newshub Ardern was either naive or misinformed if she thought there were no spies in New Zealand.

University of Waikato Professor Alexander Gillespie said the Prime Minister had been poorly briefed on her response.

“She’s getting some very bad advice somewhere along the line,” he said. “Someone in Foreign Affairs should have explained to her that this is not about whether we have spies in the county or not. This is a question about solidarity with our allies”.

Gillespie said the Government could find the lowest order person in the embassy and ask them to leave as an act of solidarity.

But Ardern appeared to have put appeasing Peters ahead of international solidarity. Her international mana is likely to have taken a hit over this, and Foreign Minister Peters may find his job abroad a bit harder. If he waffles vaguely on international visits like he does in Parliament and in media interviews New Zealand’s international image is in for a difficult time.

 

Russian response – 23 UK diplomats expelled

Cold War style tit for tat has returned, with Russia responding to the UK expelling 23 Russian diplomats with a matching 23 UK diplomats to be expelled from Russia.

Reuters: Russia expels 23 British diplomats as crisis over nerve toxin attack deepens

Russia expelled 23 British diplomats on Saturday in a carefully calibrated retaliatory move against London, which has accused the Kremlin of orchestrating a nerve toxin attack on a former Russian double agent and his daughter in southern England.

Escalating a crisis in relations, Russia said it was also shutting down the activities of the British Council, which fosters cultural links between the two countries, and Britain’s consulate-general in St. Petersburg.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the 23 British diplomats had one week to leave the country.

The move followed Britain’s decision on Wednesday to expel 23 Russian diplomats over the attack in the English city of Salisbury which left former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia Skripal, 33, critically ill in hospital.

The Foreign Ministry said Moscow’s measures were a response to what it called Britain’s “provocative actions and unsubstantiated accusations”. It warned London it stood ready to take further measures in the event of more “unfriendly steps”.

Relations between London and Moscow have crashed to a post-Cold War low over the Salisbury attack, the first known offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since World War Two.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said Britain would consider its next steps with its allies in the coming days.

“We will never tolerate a threat to the life of British citizens and others on British soil from the Russian Government. We can be reassured by the strong support we have received from our friends and allies around the world,” May told her Conservative Party’s spring forum in London.

From the Russian connected RT.COM: Moscow expels 23 UK diplomats & shuts British Council in response to ‘provocative moves’

The Russian Foreign Ministry said 23 UK diplomats must leave Russia in response to Britain’s “provocative actions and groundless accusations” over ex-double agent Sergei Skripal’s poisoning. The British Council will also be shut.

The ministry issued a statement saying 23 employees of the British embassy in Moscow have been declared personae non gratae. The diplomats must leave within a week. It also announced the operation of the British Council in Russia will be ceased given its “unregulated status.”

In addition, Russia is revoking its agreement on the opening and operation of the UK Consulate General in St. Petersburg due to “disparity in the number of consulate facilities of the two countries.”

“The British side has been warned that in case further moves of an unfriendly nature towards Russia are implemented, the Russian side reserves the right to take other response measures,” the statement added.

On Friday, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin had personally ordered the suspected nerve agent attack – a claim Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called “shocking and unforgivable.”

“Sooner or later the British side would have to present some kind of comprehensive evidence [of Russia’s involvement], at least, to their partners [France, the US, Germany], who declared solidarity with London in this situation,” Peskov added.

Moscow has repeatedly offered its full cooperation in investigating the incident, which London claims involved a Soviet-era nerve agent called Novichok. Both nations are members of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which means that London is obliged to include Moscow in the investigation.

Also from RT:

  • UK, Slovakia, Sweden, Czech Republic among most probable sources of ‘Novichok’ – Moscow
    “The most likely source of origin of the toxin are the countries which have been carrying out intense research on the substances from the ‘Novichok’ program, approximately since the end of the 1990s until the present time, and this project is not the creation of Russia or the Soviet Union,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Saturday. She listed the UK, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Sweden among the countries involved.

    The US should also “be put under question,” Zakharova said in an interview with the state broadcaster VGTRK.

    “How did they come to the conclusion about a Russian ‘footprint’ if they didn’t give us those samples? Logically they shouldn’t have this substance. Which samples have they compared with to draw such a conclusion?” she went on. “Questions arise: then, they should have samples, which they conceal, or it is a lie from start to finish.”

    “If the UK prime minister and other British experts give the formula, then it will be clear which countries have been developing these agents,” Zakharova said.

  • US training Syria militants for false flag chemical attack as basis for airstrikes – Russian MoD