Ukraine expels 13 Russian diplomats
KYIV – In a unified policy decision, 27 countries and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) banished 151 Russian diplomats over the alleged assassination attempt of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England.
Moscow has denied it was behind the March 4 attack in Salisbury that United Kingdom authorities suspect was committed using a lethal nerve agent developed by the Russian government.
Ukraine ejected 13 Russian envoys – a move that it had been “preparing” to do “for some time but… decided to act now in coordination with our friends and partners in the democratic transatlantic community of which we are a part,” according to Foreign Affairs Minister Pavlo Klimkin.
Kyiv took further action on March 27 when the Security Service of Ukraine, or SBU, said it had banned the 23 Russian diplomats that the U.K. expelled in response to the Salisbury attack.
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said the “largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history” had severely “dismantled” Moscow’s spy network while addressing her nation’s Parliament.
America threw out 60 diplomats – more than any country. Forty-eight were ordered to vacate the Russian Embassy in Washington, in addition to 12 more who were identified as Russian intelligence officers at the United Nations in New York. In addition, Russia’s Consulate in Seattle will be closed over concerns that its personnel spy on a nearby submarine base and Boeing manufacturing facilities.
“Today’s actions make the United States safer by reducing Russia’s ability to spy on Americans and to conduct covert operations that threaten America’s national security,” the White House said in a March 26 statement. “The United States stands ready to cooperate to build a better relationship with Russia, but this can only happen with a change in the Russian government’s behavior.”
Russia responded by saying that “all responsibility for the consequences of destroying Russia-U.S. relations lies squarely with the United States of America” in a tweet by Ambassador Anatoly Antonov, who is a former deputy foreign and defense minister.
In a show of unity, 18 of the European Union’s 28 countries expelled 35 Russian diplomats this past week.
NATO banished seven Moscow envoys and denied pending accreditation requests for three other workers at the Russian Mission in Brussels.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the measure was intended to show Vladimir Putin, Russia’s longest-serving leader since Joseph Stalin, “that there are costs and consequences for its unacceptable and dangerous pattern of behavior.”
More trans-Atlantic unity was buttressed by Canada. Ottawa expelled four Russian envoys.
“The nerve agent attack in Salisbury, on the soil of Canada’s close partner and ally, is a despicable, heinous and reckless act, potentially endangering the lives of hundreds,” Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a March 26 statement.
She added: “This is part of a wider pattern of unacceptable behavior by Russia, including complicity with the Assad regime, the annexation of Crimea, Russian-led fighting in eastern Ukraine, support for civil strife in Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and other neighboring countries, interference in elections and disinformation campaigns.”
Three applications by the Russian government for diplomatic accreditation were also denied by Canada.
Ukraine’s Russia sanctions
Kyiv started implementing restrictive measures against Russia as soon as Moscow invaded the country in late February 2014 after the Euro-Maidan Revolution. Crimea was annexed in March 2014 and the easternmost regions of Donetsk and Luhansk were invaded in April of that year. Approximately 7 percent of Ukraine’s territory is now under Kremlin occupation.
Military and military-technical cooperation was cut off in the first days of the Donbas war, including the servicing or supply of dual-use hardware. By September 2015, more than 1,700 Russian citizens were banned from entering the country and only international passports – not the internal ones that Russians use – were accepted at border crossings.
On September 16, 2015, President Petro Poroshenko imposed official sanctions on nearly 400 individuals and over 100 legal entities that included entry bans, asset freezes and other measures.
By May 2017, the list was expanded to 468 Russian legal entities and 1,228 individuals, according to a presidential order. And 18 additional Russian companies were sanctioned at the SBU’s request in November of that year. Those sactioned were determined to be entities and persons that “could damage the national economic interests of Ukraine.”
Popular Russian social media sites and propaganda outlets posing as news services were among those sanctioned.
Russian banks with state ownership stakes have also been targeted, and on March 1 the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) supported a central bank measure to extend “special economic” sanctions in place on them.
Five Russian banks combined have a large share of Ukraine’s banking industry market: Sberbank, Prominvestbank, VTB Bank, VS Bank and BM Bank. Sanctions were imposed on them to prevent the local banking units from moving capital out of the country and shifting it ultimately to their parent companies.
An economic cooperation agreement with Russia that was to be in effect until 2020 was also annulled last week.
Ukraine still has a visa-free reciprocal travel regime with Russia. However, Russians now need biometric passports to enter Ukraine as of January 1, and direct air travel is banned.
Additional obstacles might come into force. On March 1, the NSDC ordered the Cabinet of Ministers to draft a bill to have Russians electronically give advance notice of the purpose and intent of visiting Ukraine.
Ukraine’s economy has lost almost $100 billion due to Russia’s war-mongering since 2014, according to Swedish economist Anders Aslund, who is a senior fellow at the Washington-based Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.
In a report he published earlier in March, Dr. Aslund noted that the Ukrainian government and companies have filed legal claims for damages, violations of human rights and on charges of terrorism against Russia in such jurisdictions as the Stockholm Arbitration Institute, the International Court of Arbitration at The Hague, the High Court of London, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court.
Envoy expulsions merely symbolic
The global initiative of expelling Russian diplomats was heralded as a show of unity among liberal democracies, especially in trans-Atlantic solidarity.
More targeted and asymmetric measures were called for against Russia.
“It is important as never before not to be limited to symbolic gestures,” Mr. Poroshenko said in a March 26 statement. “The next step is to increase the price for international crimes of Moscow, inter alia, through the increase of personal, financial and economic sanctions.”
Imposing financial sanctions on Russia, “including full (Iran-style) blocking sanctions on Russian financial institutions, a prohibition of transactions with Russian defense companies, and a termination of the Nordstream II pipeline” would send a stronger message, said Michael Carpenter, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.
The diplomatic expulsions do little to “deter by punishment” through imposing or threatening significant costs should Russia attempt “another hostile action of this kind [poisoning or killing]”, said Dr. Nigel Gould-Davies, an associate fellow at U.K.-based Chatham House.
Deterring Russia’s aggressive campaign to expand influence at home and abroad will take more international action, according to experts.
To “deal with Putinism,” Rob Dannenberg, a 24-year veteran of CIA wrote for The Cipher Brief, countries should “go after the money,” including Mr. Putin’s, as well as that of senior members of his government and the oligarchs aligned with him.
“Their assets should be identified, publicized, and sanctioned, to incentivize them to distance themselves from Putin,” he said.
Russia’s energy and arms industries should also be targeted, he added.
“In addition to imposing meaningful sanctions, the United States should lead a diplomatic and cultural effort to treat Putin’s government as the pariah state proportionate to the disruption and damage Putin has caused in recent years. Why stop at barring them from the G-8? Why not kick them out of the G-20?” Mr. Dannenberg wrote.