Is expulsion of Russian diplomats the right way?

In addition to Britain, 17 EU member states are expelling Russian diplomats in reaction to the poisoning in Salisbury. Even though states like Austria, Greece, Cyprus and Slovakia have not joined in the action, Putin had not reckoned with such a concerted reaction, some commentators suspect. Others criticise the double standards of Western States.

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Savon Sanomat (FI) /

Putin underestimated the West

The Russian president didn't think the West would show a relatively united front in reacting to the poison attack, suspects Savon Sanomat:

“Putin clearly made the mistake of underestimating the mutual solidarity of the EU countries. Despite the difficult Brexit negotiations, the majority of the EU states have sided with Britain in the poisoning dispute. The US, for its part, has reacted more harshly than any other state by expelling a total of 60 diplomats and closing the Russian consulate in Seattle. During Trump's presidency there has been enough friction in the relations between the US and Western Europe, also in the form of a trade war which is still a looming threat. In the role of a common enemy, Russia may unintentionally have brought the old allies closer together.”

Večer (SI) /

The West's double standards

The states of the West are being hypocritcal, writes Večer:

“If we join the West's concerted diplomatic witchhunt, which is motivated by its powerlessness vis-à-vis Russia's involvement in Ukraine, we will be confirming that Russian state terrorism is behind the poisoning in Salisbury. But then we must ask ourselves why we haven't expelled the diplomats of other countries that use state terrorism. ... The US has toppled legitimately elected governments in South America, Bush invaded Iraq on the basis of non-existent weapons of mass destruction, Obama used drones to kill real and purported enemies across the globe. London was always the first to declare its support for the US in these affairs. But these diplomats we never expelled. After all, we're Nato allies, aren't we?”

Bild (DE) /

EU lacks a common voice

Seldom have the divisions in the EU been more apparent than on the question of Russia, Bild comments:

“Almost half of the EU member states are against expulsions. .... President Putin will be happy to see that Europe can't speak with one voice: that way European foreign policy won't function either! So it's all the more important for Germany that the new government should stand its ground. And it's good that with Heiko Maas we once again have a foreign minister who tells it like it is - although large parts of his party continue to show support for Russian policy. That's responsible government for you!”

Público (PT) /

Portugal must not isolate itself

Portugal has not expelled any of the staff at the Russian embassy so far. It needs to take action, Público demands:

“On Monday the West sent a clear message to Moscow that a line had been crossed and too much distrust of Moscow's actions has accumulated. ... This concerted expulsion formalises the start of a new era. An era we knew had already begun. ... When more than half of Europe has signalled unity and shown that it will no longer tolerate the threat to our democracy and sovereignty, Portugal must not isolate itself. Above all Lisbon should not leave any doubt that principles must not be broken and that allies must not be abandoned.”

Kaleva (FI) /

Finland may also need help one day

Particularly from the point of view of geopolitics Finland was right to expel a member of the Russian embassy's staff, Kaleva writes:

“Finland's leaders have stepped out of the grey zone and joined the right group. You can't expel fewer than one diplomat, but even this decision is enough to send the right message. ... From Finland's point of view the important aspect about this whole process is that the government clearly supports a country that belongs to the same community of values and that was the target of a malicious attack from abroad. As a country with an unpredictable neighbour, Finland may need similar support one day.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Austria doesn't want to annoy Putin

Among the countries that have not taken punitive measures against Russia Austria is a special case, Corriere della Sera explains:

“In a balancing-act statement the young chancellor said: 'The decision is right but we are not taking part in it.' A decision that not only has to do with Austria's traditional neutrality but also with the good relations that Kurz's coalition partner, the vice-chancellor and leader of the right-wing nationalist FPÖ party Heinz-Christian Strache, maintains with Moscow. His party has even signed a cooperation agreement with Putin's party. ... The decision acquires a special quality in that this is the first time both ruling parties have stood together behind a decision not to participate in punitive measures [against Russia].” (HR) /

Croatia again failed to act independently

Instead of citing the alliance with other states Croatia should have reached its own decision about whether Russia is guilty or not, asserts:

“Croatia has agreed to condemn a country that could be interesting in many respects (economically, politically) without any proof. It has thus wasted probably the last opportunity to present itself as a country that knows where its interests lie, acts independently and can assess situations maturely on its own. If no concrete and undistorted evidence is presented of Russian involvement in the Skripal affair, Croatia will now be left looking like a country that is not aware of its own independence and sovereignty.”

BBC (GB) /

A diplomatic coup for May

Theresa May has scored a victory in persuading her allies to adopt a tough line vis-à-vis Moscow, the BBC writes approvingly:

“The collective expulsions from the US and EU member states is a remarkable show of solidarity with Britain, even more so because it comes at a time when UK-EU relations are strained due to the Brexit negotiations. Donald Tusk's note that there could be 'additional measures' is a signal to Moscow as it considers how it will respond. It is a significant diplomatic victory for Prime Minister Theresa May - concerted action has now followed the strong rhetorical support from its allies.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

EU and US finally standing side by side again

This time the Kremlin's strategy won't pay off, Corriere della Sera's EU correspondent Franco Venturini writes in delight:

“One of the main goals of the Russian-Soviet strategy has always been to divide the West and weaken the transatlantic alliance. In the last year Putin has no doubt rubbed his hands in glee. ... But after the poisoning of the former spy Skripal and his daughter we're now seeing a turnaround. ... Because solidarity with Britain has been the order of the day. Solidarity that the still disunited Europe must also see as a welcome political opportunity. ... And the second political opportunity has to do with Trump and his attitude to Europe. ... The fact that Trump is included in the four-page Salisbury statement is thanks to the French president's good relations with the head of the White House.”

Mladá fronta dnes (CZ) /

The convenient enemy

The concerted expulsion of Russian diplomats follows an overly simplistic pattern, Mladá fronta dnes counters:

“Vladimir Putin is now being held responsible for all the evils in the world. For Hungary's Eurosceptic attitude, the referendum in the Netherlands, the French right, the successful Brexit campaign and Donald Trump's victory in the EU elections. It's a wonder he's not being blamed for childbed fever in Zimbabwe, too. It fits in with this trend that the Kremlin is being held responsible for the attack on Skripal and his daughter automatically and without an investigation taking place.”

Der Bund (CH) /

True friends would have behaved differently

The expulsion of Russian diplomats is false solidarity with the UK, the daily paper Der Bund believes:

“It's no secret that for years huge amounts of money have been laundered in 'Moscow on the Thames' and invested in ultra-expensive real estate. London City and its attached British tax havens are perfect for this kind of business. And the Russian state has just used this financial hub to secure loans that investors apparently fought over. True friends would have urged the British government to respond to the nerve agent attack by finally draining the swamp of corruption of the oligarchs with their privileged investor visas and money of contentious origin.”

Iswestija (RU) /

No one wants to uncover the truth

The expulsion of Russian diplomats won't help the investigations into the affair, Izvestia also stresses:

“The mass expulsion 'as a show of solidarity' with a country which can't even carry out a competent police investigation in its provincial areas is a surprising and unprecedented act in civil society. It's notable that the Americans haven't made any attempt to send their 'FBI specialists' to help the British as they usually do in such cases. That's standard practice. The FBI often visits other countries with varying degrees of success. ... But here either Theresa May rejected the offer or no one wanted to uncover the truth in the first place. At any rate a collective declaration of protest of this kind doesn't make any sense from a practical point of view.”