There’s been a lot of Russia news circulating in the past, well, year, and it can be difficult to discern exactly why any sort of sanction is happening at any given time. This week, 20 countries across the world, including Canada, announced that they would be dispelling more than 100 Russian diplomats in total, begging the question from those who do not follow Russia news like a hobby: why now?
No, this has nothing to do with the American investigation into Russian meddling. This most recent global Russia development is about the fact that the Russian government likely poisoned an ex-double agent and his adult daughter while they were in the U.K. earlier this month. So it’s less like an American political thriller and more like a James Bond movie.
On March 4, Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were poisoned with a deadly nerve agent in a park in Salisbury, England. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Skripal acted as a double agent for the U.K. but was arrested in Russia in 2004, convicted of treason and sentenced to 13 years in prison. In 2010, he returned to the U.K. as part of a “spy swap.” His daughter was visiting him from Moscow this month when they were attacked.
After an investigation into the poisoning, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that the nerve agent used on the pair was one developed and used by Russia and said that there are only two possible explanations for the attack. Either it was “a direct attack by the Russia state against [the United Kingdom]” or the “Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”
May added that they would wait two days for a satisfactory denial and explanation from the Russian government or they would consider the first option to be true. Putin’s response (which came a few days late) that the accusations against his country were “nonsense” did not satisfy the Brits, so they considered the poisoning a direct attack. Last week, May called on other European leaders to stand with the U.K. in retaliation against the “reckless attack” and the “pattern of Russian aggression.”
Almost all of the European Union expelled Russian diplomats, as did other European countries. Canada expelled four Russians and denied three pending applications for new representatives in Canada from Russia. The United States expelled 60 diplomats, including 12 working at the United Nations in New York. They also announced that they would be closing the Russian Consulate in Seattle. This move is particularly significant for the American government since it has been notably soft on Russia since Donald Trump took office – failing to take strong action on the country even after finding that they interfered in the 2016 election.
New Zealand also said they would expel any Russian spies in their country, except they couldn’t actually find any. Not wanting to seem unsupportive, NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made a statement Tuesday saying, “If there were [undeclared Russian intelligence agents in New Zealand], we would have already taken action.”
In the day since the expulsions, the Russian government has vowed they will be retaliating. Targeting the United States in particular, a Kremlin spokesperson said Russia “deeply regretted” the Americans’ move to expel their diplomats and that they would be countering by expelling “no less than 60” U.S. diplomats from Russia.