This article titled “Australia expels two Russian diplomats over ‘brazen’ UK nerve agent attack” was written by Gareth Hutchens, Amy Remeikis and Christopher Knaus, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 27th March 2018 09.21 UTC
Australia will expel two Russian diplomats as part of global action against Moscow over an alleged nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy living in the UK.
The prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and the foreign minister, Julie Bishop, made the announcement in Canberra on Tuesday, saying two Russian “diplomats” had been identified as undeclared intelligence officers and would be ordered to leave Australia within seven days.
On Tuesday night Russia’s ambassador to Australia indicated Russia was likely to retaliate in kind.
Turnbull said Russia’s alleged use of a chemical weapon to try to murder a former Russian intelligence official, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury on 4 March reflected a pattern of “recklessness and aggression” by the Russian government that had to be stopped.
He said the “brazen” and “criminal” attack was an attack “on all of us”, and declared Russia was threatening no less than the “democratic world” by deliberately undermining the international rules-based order.
He said Australia could not stand by and watch the sovereignty of its allies breached. “This latest incident has demanded a response and has received a concerted international response from the United Kingdom’s allies and partners around the world,” he said. “To do nothing would only encourage further efforts to undermine the international rules-based order upon which our security and prosperity rely.
“It reflects a pattern of recklessness and aggression by the Russian government, including the annexation of Crimea, the invasion of eastern Ukraine, the downing of MH17, cyber attacks and efforts to manipulate western nations’ elections.
“There are credible reports that Russia was actively undermining the credibility of the Brexit referendum, last year’s presidential elections in France, and Catalonia’s referendum in Spain, and in the United States, one of the oldest and formidable democracies in the world, debate is raging about whether Russian intelligence operations may have tipped the presidential election.
“The foreign minister and I want to stress that Australia has no dispute with the Russian people. Indeed, today, we offer our condolences for the devastating fire that has killed scores of people in a shopping centre in a Siberian city. This is about the actions of the Russian government,” he said.
More than 20 western countries have now moved to expel more than 100 Russian diplomats alleged to be spies in the largest coordinated diplomatic blow to Russian intelligence networks in the west since the cold war.
Turnbull and Bishop said the attempted murder was the first offensive use of chemical weapons in Europe since the second world war and involved a highly lethal substance in a populated area, endangering countless other people.
They said the expulsion took into account advice from the UK government that the substance used on 4 March was a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia. Such an attack could not be tolerated by any sovereign nation, they said.
Bishop said: “The last time diplomats were expelled from this country was in 2012 when two Syrian diplomats were expelled because of the use by the Assad regime of chemical weapons.”
Turnbull said he expected the Russian government to expel a number of Australian diplomats from Moscow in response.
The US president, Donald Trump, this week ordered the expulsion of scores of Russian diplomats, which the US identified as intelligence agents, and the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle, the most forceful action Trump has taken against Russia to date.
The British prime minister, Theresa May, has already expelled 23 Russian diplomats, among other measures, after saying the Russian state was to blame for the poison attack which left Skripal and his daughter in a critical condition.
The Kremlin has denied any involvement.
The Russian ambassador echoed those denials in interviews on Tuesday night. “I’ve heard that but what kind of connection does it have to international law?” Grigory Logvinov said on ABC Radio National.
“How can you accuse or proclaim anyone, regardless a state or a person, a criminal without any evidence. What kind of evidence London has provided, none, because they can’t have, they don’t have and can’t have any evidence.”
Speaking on RN and to 7.30, Grigory Logvinov, the Kremlin’s ambassador to Australia, emphatically deny claims the two individuals expelled were with Russian intelligence.
“First of all I should say they are expelling two diplomats whom they call undeclared intelligence officers. But there are only professional career diplomats in my embassy here,” Logvinov told ABC radio.
“But what’s really regrettable is that, as you mentioned, Australian authorities are following the solidarity [with] Great Britain and not international law and international norms.”
Logvinov said the two “career diplomats” conducted all the usual work typically associated with an embassy. They followed international developments, reactions and wrote papers, he said.
He flagged likely retaliation from Russia. The most common response, he said, would be for Russia to expel the same number of Australian diplomats – a course Australia is already anticipating.
Asked whether the west and Russia were headed for war, he said: “Well, you see, it’s a very strong question. I am very hopeful that the humankind and the governments of the different countries are wise enough to prevent a real crisis a global crisis in international relations, international situation. That’s my best hope.”
The British high commissioner, Menna Rawlings, thanked Australia for its “unwavering support”.
“The use of a nerve agent on British soil demands concerted diplomatic action. We are grateful to have Australia and other countries with us,” Rawlings said in a statement.
“What happened in the UK could happen in any country. It was an attack not just on the UK but on international security and the rules-based order.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010