Expel Russian Diplomats – You’re either with us or against us
By TruePublica: The EU recalled its ambassador to Russia (for a period of one month) whilst EU member states considered the implications of expelling Russian diplomats in reaction to the chemical weapons attack in the UK earlier this month. That was the upshot of EU summit talks on the incident last Thursday (22 March). The response was nowhere near as unified as we are led to believe.
Contrary to the unified agreements that have been announced by EU members states there are divisions within European ruling elites over Russia. UK Prime Minister Theresa May has pressed European leaders quite hard to expel Russian agents, in a bid to dismantle “Kremlin networks” across Europe.
EUObserver comments that “behind the scenes, others had resisted blaming Russia in the joint statement, before eventually yielding” as Thursday’s talks overran.
Some even questioned the reliability of British intelligence, citing the fiasco of false British information in the Iraq war in 2003, diplomats said.
The EU sceptics included Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Finland as well as Cyprus, Greece, and Italy in the south, sources said. Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and Hungary also voiced doubt.
Greek leader Alexis Tsipras told the press “we need to investigate” before blaming Russia.
The “information we’ve got so far is not enough to make decisions [on new sanctions]”, Finnish prime minister Juha Sipila told the Bloomberg news agency.
Bulgaria’s Boyko Borissov and the Czech Republic’s Andrej Babis echoed that position.
“When we know who did it, then I’ll comment. Who would say for sure now?”, Borissov said. “Is there any evidence of this? I don’t know, of course, we trust our allies [the UK],” Babis said.
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Belgium’s Louis Michel called the question of Russia sanctions “very sensitive”, adding: “It’s important to keep a cool head, to keep calm”.
The clearly coordinated announcements were confirmed when Eight EU countries announced within 15 minutes of each other on Monday afternoon that they would expel a number of Russian diplomats.
Craig Murray, ex British Ambassador has been leading the charge in Britain against accusations that it was Russia who carried out the Skripal’s Novichok nerve agent attack on the basis that the evidence has as yet, not been produced. “If the UK were any kind of a democracy, opposition parties would have held firm against the rush to conflict with Russia, until a serious and thorough investigation of the Skripal case had yielded real results. At the very least, you would expect to see a select committee of the House of Commons call the head of Porton Down to give evidence and quiz him about the level of certainty they have of the identity and the Russian manufacture of the substance which poisoned the Skripals.
Instead, we have seen all the establishment parties fall over themselves to appear as belligerent and faux-Churchillian as May and her pipsqueaks, in order to placate the tabloids. This is ludicrous. You cannot out-jingo the Tories, and the rush to increase international tension benefits nobody except the armaments and security industries.”
Mark Malloch-Brown, a former UN Deputy Secretary-General and British cabinet minister commented last week that “Though EU members have expressed their support for Britain and made assurances that Brexit will not disrupt solidarity or security, there are signs that this united front may, in fact, be just a front. The European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, congratulated Russian President Vladimir Putin on his election to a fourth term – a move that rankled the UK.”
In a politically uncertain environment as the world appears to be at the moment, we have no real idea as to the pressures being placed upon Western allies to fall into line through diplomatic circles. One can only speculate. However, Theresa May is in a very tight spot politically over Brexit (along with various other points of crisis) and requires a diversion, as does the American president Donald Trump and the European Union – all of whom are implicated in a quagmire of scandals or political controversy and disunity.
UK Threatens New Zealand
In an extraordinary intervention, reports wsws.org, Britain’s High Commissioner to New Zealand, Laura Clarke, fired a public warning shot at the Labour-led government over its plans to seek a free trade deal with Russia. Following the Skripal poisoning in the UK, Clarke successfully pressured NZ to join the sanctions that Britain and its allies have imposed on Russia.
Britain is pushing allies such as New Zealand—which, along with the UK, is part of the US-led “Five Eyes” (US, Canada, NZ, Australia, UK) intelligence network—to fall into line.
Speaking on Radio NZ on March 15, Clarke warned that efforts to pursue a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Russia would jeopardise future deals with both the EU and the UK. Clarke declared that New Zealand had to “prioritise” its FTAs, and trade negotiations with the EU and UK “never happen in a vacuum.”
The high commissioner earlier invited a group of selected journalists to a private briefing on the issue. According to journalist Richard Harman’s POLITIK website, the meeting was intended to “soften up New Zealand public opinion to join in any sanctions Britain might try and impose on Russia.” Harman concluded that “the British felt they needed to make a strong case in Wellington.”
The day after Clarke’s radio interview, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the government had rescinded moves to restart trade talks with Russia and added that “in the light of the Salisbury incident” she did not know when, or if, the government would be in a position to resume trade talks.
The PM also announced that the government couldn’t find any Russian spies to expel, though it did summon the ambassador and make its “serious concern” known to Moscow.
In the meantime, there are serious doubts about the evidence of the Novichok nerve agent, who might have wanted the Skripal’s murdered, and Porton Down’s involvement.
Independent technical experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) arrived in the UK March 19th to kick off their investigation and have categorically stated that their results are expected to take a minimum of 2 weeks – the likely earliest being around April 6th. This being the case, the coordinated approach by leaders of various countries does appear to many observers as being politically motivated and not evidence-based.
Theresa May welcomed what she called “the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history” after more than 100 Russian diplomats alleged to be spies in western countries were told to return to Moscow.