Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has confirmed reports that two Australians are amongst the 59 officials that were expelled from Russia recently. This development is the most recent in a worsening standoff between the Kremlin and the West regarding the alleged Russian poisoning of a former spy and his daughter in Salisbury, England.
Prime Minister Turnbull revealed that the two Australian diplomats had been given a week to leave the Russian capital.
While he expressed disappointment with the Russian decision, Prime Minister Turnbull said it was “not unexpected”. This move by Russia is undoubtedly part of its political backlash against Australia for sending home two Russian diplomats who Turnbull said were “undeclared intelligence officers”.
Turnbull went on to say that the officials being expelled from Russia were only filling out their “diplomatic and consular functions” and that Russia has “no justification for this action”.
Russia has outlined its actions as responding to what it has called “baseless demands” that ask for Russian diplomats to leave several high profile Western countries. Russia’s ambassador to Australia recently said in a press briefing that the Salisbury scandal was all a conspiracy against Russia being led by Western nations.
In solidarity with the United Kingdom, Australia expelled two Russian diplomats following the Salisbury attack. Russia has already fiercely denied allegations of using the nerve agent in Salisbury which was the first recorded use of a nerve weapon in Europe since the end of World War 2.
A day prior to Australia expelling Russian diplomats, Russia expelled 60 US diplomats and closed the US consulate in St Petersburg. The poison attack has rallied several Western nations against Russia, each of whom is wishing to send Moscow a message regarding respect for state sovereignty.
These nations include the United States, led by President Donald Trump who had recently congratulated Vladimir Putin on his re-election as Russia president. Trump has since defended his kind words to Putin, emphasising the importance of maintaining a good relationship with his Russian counterpart.
Despite confusion about American tolerances, Australia stood firmly with the UK in its condemnation of Russia for what Turnbull called an “outrageous” use of a nerve agent. Turnbull also said that the Kremlin needed to explain how a “military-grade nerve agent” found its way into and was “used in the UK” which posed a significant risk to “hundreds of people”.
Turnbull also said that the government in Russia would need to “explain why its Novichok (the name of the nerve agent)program” was undeclared from the “Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons”.
Russia has outwardly rejected all of these claims and instead said that this is all part of a plot to destroy East-West relationships and further isolate Moscow.