State of play in tit-for-tat expulsions in spy poisoning row

A policemen guard the British embassy in Moscow, Russia, 31 March 2018. Russia has told Britain on 31 March 2018 it must send home just over 50 more of its diplomats, as Britain decided to expell 23 Russian diplomats last week in connection with the case of poisoning the former spy Sergei Skripal. [EPA-EFE/YURI KOCHETKOV]

Russia on Saturday (31 March) demanded that Britain further reduce its diplomatic staff in Moscow, the latest move in an escalating tit-for-tat dispute following the poisoning of a former Russian spy on British soil.

Russia had already kicked out 23 British envoys and closed a British consulate in response to the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats by Britain, which accuses Moscow of poisoning former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury on March 4.

On Saturday, Moscow indicated as many as 50 more British diplomatic staff would be kicked out for the sake of parity.

The United States, EU members, NATO and other nations have expelled over 150 Russian diplomats in a coordinated action against Moscow in support of Britain, and Russia has retaliated with similar moves.

Here is a list updated to Saturday of the countries involved and the number of envoys already expelled or put on notice to leave.

US

The United States: Expelled 60 alleged spies posted around the country and at the Russian mission to the United Nations in what a senior US official said was the biggest such move in US history.

About 50 men, women and children left the hilltop Russian embassy in Washington on Saturday, with more to follow.

Washington also closed the Russian consulate in Seattle over alleged spying at the nearby Kitsap submarine base and Boeing facilities.

The retaliation against Moscow was taken “in response to Russia’s use of a military-grade chemical weapon on the soil of the United Kingdom,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said.

NATO

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was expelling seven Russian diplomats and denying accreditation to three more, all Belgium-based, an informed source told AFP.

“This will send a clear message to Russia that there are costs and consequences for their unacceptable pattern of behaviour,” Stoltenberg said.

European Union

Eighteen EU nations have joined Britain in deciding to expel Russian diplomats following a European Council decision to react to Moscow within a common framework.

“Additional measures including further expulsions are not to be excluded in the coming days and weeks,” EU President Donald Tusk said.

France, Germany and Poland led the way among Britain’s EU allies as each expelled four diplomats. The Czech Republic and Lithuania booted out three, The Netherlands, Italy, Denmark and Spain two each and Belgium, Croatia Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Romania and Sweden expelled one.

Other EU members Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Slovakia and Slovenia have recalled their ambassadors for consultations but by Saturday afternoon none of the six had expelled any Russians.

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Outside EU, other Western nations

Ukraine has expelled 13 diplomats and President Petro Poroshenko called for even more action to be taken.

“The next step is to increase the price that Moscow has to pay for its international crimes, including the strengthening of personal, financial and economic sanctions,” he said.

Canada ousted four diplomats, calling the nerve agent attack “a despicable, heinous and reckless act” while Australia has ordered two Russian diplomats to leave.

Moldova kicked out three diplomats, Albania two and Macedonia, Montenegro and Norway one apiece.

Russian retaliation

On Saturday March 17 Russia said it was expelling British diplomats in a tit-for-tat response to actions by London.

A foreign ministry statement said: “Twenty three diplomatic staff at the British embassy in Moscow are declared persona non grata and to be expelled within a week.”

It said this was a response to Britain’s “provocative actions” and “baseless accusations over the Salisbury incident. Moscow also said it would halt the activities of the British Council in Russia.

On Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would expel 60 US diplomats and close its consulate in Saint Petersburg.

He accused London of “forcing everyone to follow an anti-Russian course.”

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