News & Politics

Britain Orders 23 Russian Diplomats to Leave the Country

Teresa May meets with Donald Trump, Washington DC, USA - 27 Jan 2017

British Prime Minister Theresa May informed parliament that Russia had refused to answer questions about a nerve agent attack on a former spy in Salisbury. In response, London will order 23 “undeclared intelligence officers” working as diplomats expelled from the country.

The British deputy UN ambassador, Jonathan Allen, told the Security Council that Russia had violated the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Allen said, “We will stand by the values which are shared by the overwhelming majority of those in this council in this United Nations and we ask you today, to stand by us.” The west is, indeed, lining up in support of the UK with the EU mulling several sanctions options and the U.S. imposing its own sanctions on Russia for election meddling.

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vasily Nebenzya seemed a little peeved when he said, “We were given an ultimatum and requested in 24 hours to admit that we committed a crime. In other words, confess.” He added, “We do not speak the language of ultimatums. We do not use that language with anyone. And we will not allow to be spoken to in that language either.”

The BBC reports on “other measures” being taken by May:

These include:

  • Expelling 23 diplomats
  • Increasing checks on private flights, customs and freight
  • Freezing Russian state assets where there is evidence they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents
  • Ministers and the Royal Family boycotting the Fifa World Cup in Russia later this year
  • Suspending all planned high-level bilateral contacts between the UK and Russia
  • Plans to consider new laws to increase defences against “hostile state activity”

Mrs May told MPs that Russia had provided “no explanation” as to how the nerve agent came to be used in the UK, describing Moscow’s response as one of “sarcasm, contempt and defiance”.

The use of a Russian-made nerve agent on UK soil amounted to the “unlawful use of force”, she said.

Last year, Russia expelled more than 700 U.S. diplomats after sanctions were imposed.  Despite the massive number, the embassy carried on with business as usual.

Russia’s UK embassy will also carry on. There are almost certainly other FSB agents that the Brits know nothing about who will continue with clandestine activities. So reducing the staff at the embassy is far more symbolic a gesture than a serious effort to retaliate.

As far as the other measures proposed by May, they amount to minor annoyances, nothing more. May’s problem is the same one that faces the U.S. in sanctioning Russia: there isn’t much left to target. The personal assets of oligarchs that aren’t in the Caymans or Switzerland might be another potential target for sanctions. Most of those oligarchs are Putin cronies. But those guys are wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice. Sanctioning them is not likely to alter Russian policies.

So we’re left with the stark fact that Russia has become a rogue state, operating outside of international law. The norms of international diplomacy mean nothing to Putin, nor does the opinion of other world leaders. While Democrats are  busy getting hysterical about how dangerous Trump is, the Russian leader is busy undermining the peace of the world with impunity.