Diplomatic relations between Russia and several NATO countries have continued to worsen, highlighted by the bilateral retaliatory expulsion of diplomats and embassy personnel. The fallout has picked up steam after the U.S. announced a plan to expel 60 Russian diplomats. In retaliation, Russia has since announced a plan to remove an equal number of American diplomats and close the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg.
The diplomatic breakdown has extended into several European countries’ domains as well. At least 20 European countries have been affected, with more expulsions to come. European Union leaders and NATO allies such as France, Germany, Italy and Spain have also had their ambassadors expelled. The United Kingdom was the first country to have its personnel removed. All of the countries that border Russia, except for traditional ally Belarus, have severed diplomatic ties with Russia. These countries include Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Ukraine.
The impetus for the recent diplomatic row stems from the alleged assassination attempt on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, both of whom had relocated to the U.K. The British government linked the attempted murder-by-poisoning to Russia and expelled 23 Russian government officials from London. Russia quickly followed suit by expelling an identical number of British representatives from within its borders.
Poisoning in particular is very common in the cases of unexplained deaths of Russian defectors. This alarming recurrence is best illustrated by the infamous polonium-induced death of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian KGB and FSB officer, in 2006. Litvinenko had previously fled Russia to the U.K., seeking political asylum in the same year as his death. The U.K. government concluded that his death was linked to a Russian agent, who likely received his orders from the Kremlin.
On the topic of the diplomatic exodus, Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders said, “the United States takes this action in conjunction with our NATO allies and partners around the world in response to Russia’s use of a military-grade chemical weapon on the soil of the United Kingdom, the latest in its ongoing pattern of destabilizing activities around the world.”
Sarah claims that the administration wants to see consequential changes in Russia’s actions, but remains ready to work with Russia through diplomacy. “With these steps, the United States and our allies and partners make clear to Russia that its actions have consequences. The United States stands ready to cooperate to build a better relationship with Russia, but this can only happen with a change in the Russian government’s behavior.”
Russian relations with the rest of the world continue to worsen. The revelations gleaned from the Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. election, their involvement in the 2016 U.K ‘Brexit’ vote and continued cyber-attacks have made countries more distrusting of Russia.