Canada expels four Russian officials in retaliation for U.K. spy attack
Of the roughly 100 Russian diplomats and officers stationed in Canada, four will now be expelled in retaliation for Russia’s involvement in a chemical attack that left a former double agent and his daughter in critical condition in the U.K. earlier this month.
The announcement came in a statement just hours after the United States and France announced they would also expel dozens of Russian diplomats from their countries in response for the attack.
Russia has repeatedly denied responsibility and instead offered conspiracy theories that the U.K. itself was behind the use of a Soviet military-grade nerve agent, which also injured roughly 30 bystanders in Salisbury, U.K., on March 4.
“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,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland in a statement Monday.
“Canada is today taking action against seven Russian personnel. We are expelling four members of Russia’s diplomatic staff, serving either at the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Canada or the Consulate General of the Russian Federation in Montréal.”
WATCH: U.S., other European states expel Russian diplomats in response to U.K. spy attack
Freeland said the four had been identified as “intelligence officers or individuals who have used their diplomatic status to undermine Canada’s security or interfere in our democracy.” The other three are Russian staffers who have applied to come to Canada. They will not have their applications approved.
“For similar reasons, three applications by the Russian government for additional diplomatic staff in Canada will now be denied,” she said.
The move comes as roughly a dozen other Western nations have issued statements saying they are also expelling Russian diplomats from their territories in solidarity with a move by the U.K. last week to expel 23 Russian intelligence officers over the attack.
The United States is expelling 60 Russian diplomats and ordering the Russian embassy in Seattle to close.
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Ukraine is expelling 13 while Germany and France are both expelling four each.
Italy, Denmark, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Poland, the Netherlands, Latvia and Estonia are also expelling between one and four Russian diplomats each.
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In a statement shared by the Russian embassy in Ottawa on its Twitter account, officials there called the expulsions “deplorable and outrageous” and vowed to reciprocate.
Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were found unconscious on a bench in the southeastern city of Salisbury and transported to hospital where they have remained in critical condition since the start of the month.
A police officer who attended the scene was also seriously injured.
British Prime Minister Theresa May had set a deadline after the attack for Russia to explain how a nerve agent manufactured by the Soviets during the Cold War came to be used in an attack on U.K. soil but the Russians did not respond other than to deny involvement.
After that deadline passed, May said in the House of Commons that Russia was “culpable” for the attack and called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council to express concerns.
Russian representatives at the United Nations brushed aside the concerns raised by the U.K. and suggested that since officials there were able to identify the nerve agent, they must have stockpiles of it themselves and could have been the ones who actually used it.
However, Moscow has provided no evidence for how a chemical weapon manufactured solely by the Russians ended up on British soil.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is now investigating.
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“The nerve agent attack represents a clear threat to the rules-based international order and to the rules that were established by the international community to ensure chemical weapons would never again destroy human lives,” said Freeland.
“This is part of a wider pattern of unacceptable behaviour 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 neighbouring countries, interference in elections, and disinformation campaigns.”
It is not the first incident of apparent Russian involvement in what U.K. officials have characterized as assassinations of those it deems traitors.
In 2006, former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko died in a British hospital after his tea was poisoned with a radioactive substance called polonium-210.
For years, British law enforcement asked for help from Russia in identifying those responsible but the Kremlin refused.
A report almost a decade after the attack finally identified Russian President Vladimir Putin as the instigator.
Roughly one week after the attack on Skripal, another Russian exile, businessman Nikolai Glushkov, was founded dead in his London home and police announced they were investigating the incident as a murder.
The Salisbusy attack came just weeks after U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals on charges of allegedly interfering in the 2016 presidential election.