Australia, Ireland, NATO join in expelling Russian envoys over poisoning in Britain

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg addresses the press at NATO headquarters in Brussels on March 27, 2018.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg addresses the press at NATO headquarters in Brussels on March 27, 2018.
(Emmanuel Dunand / AFP/Getty Images)

Australia, Ireland, NATO and Moldova on Tuesday joined the wave of nations and groups expelling Russian diplomats over the nerve-agent poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. Russia denounced the actions as “boorish” and pledged to retaliate.

The mass expulsions were a show of solidarity for Britain, which blames Russia for the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. Moscow vehemently denies responsibility and has vowed a “tough response” to the expulsions.

More than 20 countries on Monday announced that they were expelling a total of more than 130 Russian diplomats, including 60 kicked out by the United States.

On Tuesday, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said his country was expelling two Russian diplomats whom he described as undeclared intelligence officers. They have been given seven days to leave Australia. Turnbull slammed Russia for “reckless and deliberate” conduct that he said harms global security and violates rules against the use of chemical weapons.


The Russian Embassy in Canberra said the decision was regrettable and jeopardized bilateral relationships.

“It is astonishing how easily the allies of Great Britain follow it blindly contrary to the norms of civilized bilateral dialogue and international relations, and against ... common sense,” it said.

Ireland also announced it was ordering one Russian diplomat to leave. Foreign Minister Simon Coveney called the nerve-agent attack on Skripal and his daughter a “shocking and abhorrent” use of chemical weapons.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance would expel seven staffers from the Russian mission and deny the pending accreditation requests of three other workers at the Russian mission.

Stoltenberg said “we will continue to work for meaningful dialogue” with Russia, but added that the measures announced Tuesday should “send a very clear message to Russia that it has costs.”

“I actually think that Russia has underestimated the unity of NATO allies,” he said.

Moldova, the ex-Soviet nation whose pro-Western government is seeking closer ties with the West, on Tuesday also ordered three Russian diplomats to leave the former Soviet republic within seven days.

The Skripals remain hospitalized in critical condition after they were found unconscious on March 4 in the English city of Salisbury, where the former spy lived. Britain says they were poisoned with a Soviet-made military-grade nerve agent known as Novichok.

Moscow has dismissed the British accusations as baseless, saying that it fully destroyed its Soviet-era chemical arsenals last year.

Russia’s foreign minister blamed the U.S. for blackmailing its allies to expel Russian diplomats.

Speaking on a trip to Uzbekistan, Sergei Lavrov said the U.S. has applied “colossal pressure, colossal blackmail, which have become Washington’s main instrument on the international arena.”

Lavrov warned that Moscow will retaliate for the expulsions, saying “such boorishness can’t be tolerated.”

The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin would make the final decision on how to respond.