Russia blames US pressure on allies for expulsions, vows retaliation as Russia media pronounce new Cold War

Russia's foreign minister says the expulsion of the country's diplomats is "boorish, anti-Russian behaviour", as Nato announced it too was following suit in response to a nerve agent attack in Britain.
A Russian flag flies next to the US embassy building in Moscow on March 27, 2018.
A Russian flag flies next to the US embassy building in Moscow on March 27, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

TASHKENT (AFP) - Moscow on Tuesday (March 27) charged Washington had put "colossal pressure" on allies to expel scores of Russian diplomats, and vowed to retaliate.

Governments of 26 countries around the world have expelled more than 100 Russian diplomats in an unprecedented international response to the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since World War II. 

Nato meanwhile said late on Tuesday it has expelled seven diplomats from Russia’s mission to the alliance.

The expulsions were a response to the poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury on March 4. Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer who sold secrets to Britain and moved there in a 2010 spy swap.

Britain hailed the mass expulsions as a “turning point” for the West’s attitude to a “reckless” Russia, but Moscow denies responsibility for the poisoning and has vowed to carry out tit-for-tat measures of its own.  

"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."

Britain had urged allies to take strong action in response to the attack. The United States responded particularly strongly, ordering 60 Russians to leave embassies and consulates and shutting down the Russian consulate general in Seattle.

Australia also joined in the coordinated diplomatic move, expelling two Russian diplomats on Tuesday that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said were "undeclared intelligence officers".

NEW COLD WAR

Russian media on Tuesday shared the view that Western countries’ coordinated expulsions of Russian diplomats have plunged Moscow’s relations with the West into a new “Cold War”.

Izvestia pro-Kremlin daily denounced what it called a “flash mob”, while Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily stressed that “never before have there been such coordinated expulsions”. 

“Relationships between Russia and the West are entering a period of an all-out Cold War,” political analyst Fedor Lukyanov wrote in Vedomosti business daily. 

 

“The expulsions will be particularly destructive for Russian-American relations,” he said, adding that he expects the West to issue “much more severe economic sanctions” against Russia in the future.  “This is not an end of escalation. It will most probably worsen.”

Kommersant business daily wrote that these “measures of unprecedented severity... are yet another round of aggravation of tensions in Russian-Western relations”. 

Political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky said Russia’s foreign policy has been fired by “the concentrated energy of self-destruction” since 2014, the year when Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, incurring retaliatory economic sanctions from the West. 

“The worse the relationships between Russia and the West are, the better it is for the president”, with Vladimir Putin’s domestic legitimacy propped up by the confrontation with the West, Belkovsky wrote in a blog for the popular Echo of Moscow radio station. 

As international pressure on Moscow mounts, Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said late on Tuesday the alliance had expelled seven Russian diplomats, denied accreditation to three more, and cut the maximum size of the Russian mission at the alliance to 20 people from 30. 

“It sends a very clear message to Russia that it has costs,”he told a news conference. Nato had warned that the nerve agent attack on British soil must have “consequences”.

Relations between Nato and Russia were already at a low ebb over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and its role in the Ukraine and Syria conflicts.

Speaking on the sidelines of a conference on Afghanistan in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent, Mr Lavrov said the expulsions justified Russia's view that there are "few independent countries" remaining in Europe.

Comments by British Prime Minister Theresa May blaming Russia for the poisoning were "simply an affront to the system of Anglo-Saxon justice system," Mr Lavrov added.