Robert Harneis –TDO- (FRANCE) - On 26th and 27th March a group of Western nations, with more or less enthusiasm, expelled Russian diplomats in solidarity with Britain over the Skripal poisoning in Salisbury. In most cases the Russians have contented themselves with exactly reciprocal measures. Thus, four French diplomats have been expelled from Russia whilst four Russians have been expelled from France. Meanwhile French President Macron has indicated that his visit to Russia will go ahead.
However, the Russian Foreign Ministry has gone beyond the traditional tit for tat exchange of expulsions with the United Kingdom and demanded that London reduce the number of British diplomatic and consular staff to the same number of Russians in Britain. They have given the British Foreign Office a month to do this. The state RIA Novosti news agency quoted an unidentified Russian diplomat as saying that the number of British diplomatic personnel in Russia exceeds the number of Russian envoys in Britain by more than 50. They had previously carried out reciprocal expulsions of 23 British diplomats, after 23 Russians were expelled from Britain. However even then they took the opportunity to close down the British Council, supposedly only concerned with British culture but widely suspected of being a cover for subversive activities.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made it clear that he believed that the latest intensification of the crisis was inspired by Washington. He also expressed his contempt to the US dominated follow my leader policies of many states. He said "When one or two diplomats are being expelled from this or that country, all the while whispering apologies in our ear, we know for sure that this is a result of colossal pressure, colossal blackmail, which unfortunately is Washington's main tool now on the international area." He added "It is hard to escape a conclusion that we were right when we stressed several times that there remain few independent countries in the modern world, modern Europe."
It would seem that Russia has overall got distinctly the better of the exchanges of expulsions with both the United States and the UK so far. When Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats for “interfering in the US elections”, Moscow delayed its reaction and then ordered the US to reduce the number of diplomats in Russia to the same level of Russians in America. This effectively caused the mass expulsion of 755 US diplomatic staff of all sorts. The British Council is now closed and there are a great deal fewer British and US ‘diplomats’ in Russia to make trouble for President Putin.
Putin had delayed such a move, hoping for an improved relationship under President Trump, “but, judging by everything, if it changes, it will not be soon,” he said.
Meanwhile neither France nor Germany seem to be taking the Skripal affair too seriously. Initially Paris was dismissive of the British allegations of direct Russian involvement. German politicians have not been slow to criticize their own government in the matter. “In general, sanctions should be based on facts and not assumptions,” Günter Verheugen, former EU commissioner, told the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper. He likened the arguments in the Skripal case to a “trial sentence which says: ‘we can’t prove the accused committed the crime, but we wouldn’t put it past him’.”
Meanwhile British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has compared the World Cup Football competition which opens in Russia this summer to Hitler’s Berlin Olympics in 1936. Whilst in the United States, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters on Tuesday. “If Russia wants to improve relations, it needs to first acknowledge its responsibility for this attack and cease its recklessly aggressive behavior.”