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On Saturday, Russia ordered 23 British diplomats to depart from the country within the span of a week, a diplomatic move that has triggered much controversy and tension between London and Moscow. This incident has happened after the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter with a military grade nerve agent in Britain.
This order of the expulsion of British diplomats was seen as a response to Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain’s expulsion of the same number of Russian diplomats from Britain earlier this week. Along with the expulsion of diplomats, Russia has also ordered the closing of the British Council and canceled permission for British consulate general in St. Petersburg. The two governments have plummeted drastically from their previous level of frequent contacts and communication, now replaced by increasing tension and distrust.
In the incidence that triggered this response, Sergei V. Skripal, the former Russian spy and Yulia Skripal, his daughter, were found dead on a park bench in Salisbury in Britain as a result of an attack on March 4. They were later to be diagnosed with poisoning by Novichok, a lethal nerve agent created in the 1970s and 80s by the Soviet Union. The Kremlin has denied any connection to this attack, yet the poisoning has been widely interpreted by media and politicians as a warning to traitors.
This incidence has incited hostility from Britain as it expelled Russian diplomats immediately and announced its decision that no members of the royal family would go to Russia for the World Cup this coming summer. The poisoning has accelerated to a diplomatic crisis between the two governments, as Russia has responded to Britain’s diplomatic move with equally hostile and unfriendly diplomatic gestures.
This crisis could also trace itself in a similar incident that took place in 2007, during which British government had accused a Russian agent of attempting to poison Alexander V. Litvinenko, a former Russian Security Service officer with radioactive element polonium-210 to his tea. In response to this attempted attack, Britain expelled four Russian diplomats and Russia did the same.
In fact, in December 2016, as a response to Russia interference in U.S. Presidential election, President Obama ordered 35 Russian diplomats to be expelled, which was reciprocated by Russia with its order of the United States to match its diplomatic force in Russia to that of Russia in America. This cut was estimated to be about 700 positions, marking a drastic decline in America’s diplomatic presence and influence in Russia.
While Britain has viewed the poisoning of the Skripals as Russia’s warning to its traitors and a challenge to the British government and security, Russian news media has been covering this incidence as aggression of the British against Russia and an attempt to weaken Mr. Putin’s chances to win the upcoming election. Some speculated that the murders could be done by exiled Russian oligarchs.
Mrs. May of Britain has stated that “there is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian state was culpable” and insisted on her stance of defending Britain against this diplomatic crisis. The National Security Council of Britain is reported to be planning to meet next week to consider further diplomatic moves and gestures to counter Russian responses.
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