Fourteen EU countries to take diplomatic action against Russia

Poland, Lithuania and Latvia recall ambassadors from Moscow as the EU is expected to expel more Russian diplomats.

Poland embassy in Russia
A car drives past a building of the Polish embassy in Moscow [Maxim Shemetov/Reuters]

Moscow, Russia – Fourteen European Union countries have taken a decision to expel Russian diplomats, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council said on Monday. The decision was made last Friday during a meeting of EU leaders. 

Earlier on Monday, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania withdrew their ambassadors from Moscow, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported, citing “unknown reasons” for the move.

Brussels already recalled Markus Ederer, head of the European Union Delegation in Russia, for consultations. The move came days after London expelled 23 Russian diplomats and Moscow responded with the same measure.

Dmitry Peskov, press secretary of the Russian presidency, told Russian media that Russia has not received any official notification from the US regarding the expulsion of Russian diplomats and that Moscow is ready to respond in kind.

“Of course, in any such case [of expulsions], it is clear that the principle of reciprocity will be employed,” he said. 

Tensions in UK-Russian relations escalated after UK Prime Minister Theresa May accused Russia of poisoning former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with a nerve agent.

On March 4, Skripal and his daughter were found unconscious on a bench near a shopping centre in the town of Salisbury, 120km southwest of London. They are both still in a critical condition at Salisbury District Hospital.

Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer accused of spying for the UK. He was imprisoned in 2006 and later exchanged for Russian citizens accused of espionage in the US.

On March 19, representatives of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) collected samples and their results are expected to be released in a week.

According to Russian analyst and journalist Konstantin Eggert, if the results of the OPCW investigation show a Russian link, the diplomatic crisis would worsen. 

“Moscow will now try to divide the EU into two camps – the radical pro-British camp and those who they would think followed the EU because of the demands for solidarity rather than out of conviction,” Eggert said.

In his opinion, the UK will also gradually escalate its measures against Russia. 

“It is quite conceivable to me that quite soon there will be a British version of the Magnitsky Law and it seems that the desire to clamp down on Russian wealth in the UK is the most serious of all others over the last 15-17 years,” he said.

Russian state media denials

On the eve of the latest expulsions of Russian diplomats, Russian state media dedicated much time to appearances of officials and coverage of the Skripal case, claiming that Russia has been falsely accused of poisoning Skripal.

“What Britain is doing right now is black PR on an international scale,” said foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zaharova on state TV channel Rossiya 1.

She said that Britain is rushing in its investigation and sending “illiterate” responses to inquiries of the Russian embassy in London. She also questioned the validity of the OPCW investigation. 

Earlier the same day, Peskov told Russian state channel NTV that Britain’s behaviour “is bordering on banditry in international relations. What is behind this? Either internal problems in Britain or problems between Britain and its allies, or something else.”

Meanwhile, state TV channel Rossiya 24 aired an extensive report on the Skripal case claiming that May is “lying” because the nerve gas agent “Novichok” does not exist.

The same day, a popular on Rossiya 1 late-night talk show with Vladimir Solovyev, a media personality thought to be close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, featured an interview with a Russia chemical weapons specialist who alleged that the US has also developed a substance like the one believed to have poisoned Skripal and his daughter.

According to Mark Galeotti, senior research fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague, the targeting of Skripal was meant to send a signal to the West.

“Presumably, if they decided to target Skripal […], they had two options – one, do it subtly, and two, do it demonstratively and they clearly made a choice,” Galeotti told Al Jazeera.

In his opinion, Russia will continue to employ similar provocative tactics with the West.

“[These tactics] keep Russia bubbling up in the news and in the attention of the West,” he said.

“Putin’s aim is to force the West into recognising Russia as a big power.” 

Source: Al Jazeera

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