In a coordinated response to the nerve agent attack in the UK last month, more than 20 western allies announced measures ordering the expulsion of Russian diplomats in their respective countries. The decision was made after EU leaders concluded that it was highly likely that the Russian state poisoned former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter. Affecting at least 151 people, the concerted effort stood in history as the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers since the Cold War.
“Expelling the Russian diplomats to cut off ties may only be temporary in effect,” said Joshua Lim (10), forensics member. “With the Russian embassy being present in all the countries, the sources for their intelligence will not be completely isolated—even in the case that the presence of diplomats is disregarded. After all, Russia still had control in some of the past elections, showing that the sources for their intelligence lie deeper within.”
Although governments were hesitant in responding to previous cases of alleged Kremlin attacks on Western soil, the expulsion marked a turning point to a stronger approach taken by each nation. This transition was in part driven by the notion that subdued responses arising from the inability to prove Russian culpability with absolute certitude was viewed as a sign of weakness, thereby only emboldening the Kremlin. Among the countries confronting the aftermath of the Salisbury incident were the EU member nations, Ukraine, Canada, and many more. With the US alone expelling 60 Russian diplomats identified as intelligence agents and shutting down the Russian Consulate in Seattle, extensive steps have been taken to end Russian diplomatic representation on the west coast.
“Though perceptible actions were taken in response to the alleged nerve agent attack, I believe Trump’s decision for the expulsion of the Russian diplomats will prove to be highly ineffective,” said Morgan Miller, US history teacher. “As shown in the 2016 elections, as well as the elections in countries like France, Germany, and Hungary, there is little evidence against the fact that Russia is able to influence events without having roots in the government.”
The expulsion marked not only a reduction in Russia’s diplomatic presence on an international scale, but also a symbolic gesture by the EU nations. Though the instigation of the international sweep only partially damaged Russian intelligence capabilities, leaving out spies without diplomatic cover, it sent out a clear message to Russia for its alleged violation of international law. Additionally, the involved countries openly projected a display of unity in countering Moscow’s efforts to fracture the west and subvert multilateralism. Even countries that normally pursued Russia-friendly policies such as Italy and Hungary showed signs of solidarity with Britain by joining in the action. In retaliation, Russia responded by ejecting the same number of British diplomats, as well as issuing a critical statement that branded the expulsion as an “unfriendly step” based on alliances rather than evidence.
“As of now, Russia is playing a different game than the rest of Europe,” said Wonjai Lee (12), MUN member. “By continuously denying any wrongdoings regardless of the evidence presented, Russia will not allow anything to get its country to fall in line with what Europe wants. In fact, the expulsion of diplomats was more of a political gesture to the international community than it was to Russia directly. Although the recent news may set the stage for a more serious conflict, based on previous patterns of fluctuating tension levels, I doubt that the expulsion will have any long term implications as a whole.”