It is the largest-ever cycle of tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats that could not be seen even during the Cold War era.
The U.S. has decided to expel 60 Russian diplomats. In retaliation against the move, Russia has announced that it will also order the same number of American diplomats to leave the country. More than 20 countries, mostly European nations, have also decided to throw out Russian diplomats, handing expulsion orders to more than 150 Russian diplomatic workers in total. Russia has warned that it will retaliate over the expulsions by these countries as well.
The cycle of retaliation needs to be stopped at some point.
The crisis was triggered by an incident in which a former senior official of the Russian military’s intelligence department and his daughter were found unconscious in critical condition in the U.K. The British government retaliated by kicking out 23 Russian diplomats, saying that it is highly likely that Russia committed the crime by using an extremely poisonous nerve agent.
The U.K. called on other countries to follow its lead, and the U.S., Canada, Australia, and most of the EU member nations like France and Germany responded.
Each country says that it will expel Russian intelligence agents posted as diplomats. U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May reportedly agreed in a telephone conference that they will make mutual efforts to wipe out Russia’s network of spies.
Demonstrating solidarity against Russia holds great significance amid strained relations between the U.S., the U.K., and Europe caused by London’s withdrawal from the EU and trade fights set off by the Trump administration.
Russia, which denies its involvement in the poisoning attack, insists that the U.S. and the U.K are leading a groundless anti-Russian campaign.
But countries reportedly decided to act in concert with the U.K. because London had provided credible information. Also, France and Germany have been accusing Russia of maneuvering to meddle in elections and spark internal conflict by launching cyberattacks or spreading fake information.
Russia needs to properly understand that the accumulation of these irritations led to the latest joint action of the U.S. and Europe. Moscow should not fuel confrontation without good reason by adhering to self-justification.
The Japanese government will not side with the U.S. and Europe to point a finger at Russia for the time being, saying, “Fact-finding should come first.” The decision may indicate that Japan has no choice but to carefully promote its relationship with Russia, given the volatile security environment in Northeast Asia and the Northern Territories issues with Russia.
But if the conflict between Russia and the West continues, Japan will be urged to clarify its position. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should clearly convey Japan’s concerns to Russian President Vladimir Putin when he visits Russia in May.