Europeans eye Russian expulsions over UK
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[March 23, 2018]
By Julia Fioretti and Elizabeth Piper
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Several European
governments moved closer on Friday to expelling Russian diplomats in a
show of support for Britain, which ordered out 23 "undeclared
intelligence agents" after a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy.
In a boost for Prime Minister Theresa May, the European Union as a whole
agreed late on Thursday to pin the blame on Moscow for the attack, which
a judge in England said may have left Sergei Skripal and his daughter
That hardened previous EU language on the issue as French President
Emmanuel Macron and others helped May overcome hesitation on the part of
some of Moscow's friendlier states, some of whom questioned how
definitive Britain's evidence is.
In a symbolic move that displayed unity of purpose, the bloc also
recalled the EU ambassador to Russia for consultations -- a conventional
form of diplomatic protest. A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir
Putin said he regretted the move. The EU said the envoy was expected
back in Brussels over the weekend.
And in a sign that nations were prepared to go further to punish Russia,
which denies any involvement in the attack, several EU leaders said on
Friday they were considering expelling diplomats.
"What we will now consider in the coming days is whether we want to take
individual action relating to Russian diplomats in Ireland," Irish Prime
Minister Leo Varadkar told reporters as he arrived at the second day of
an EU summit in Brussels.
"So we would have to do a security assessment just like they (Britain)
did ... We're not going to randomly expel people."
Britain has been pressing for coordinated action against Russia after
the Skripals were found slumped on a bench in the English city of
Salisbury on March 4 in what was the first known offensive use of a
nerve toxin in Europe since World War Two.
Welcoming the solidarity she secured from a summit that moved on to
discuss Brexit after May left on Friday morning, May told reporters:
"The threat from Russia is one that respects no borders and I think it
is clear that Russia is challenging the values we share as Europeans and
it is right that we stand together in defense of those values."
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Europeans were being drawn by London
and Washington into an anti-Russian campaign.
Some British officials were pressing other countries to expel diplomats
after London told 23 Russians to leave, a move followed by measures in
Moscow, including the closure of Britain's cultural center in St
[to top of second column]
French President Emmanuel Macron and Belgian Prime Minister Charles
Michel welcome British Prime Minister Theresa May during a European
Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2018.
But first May had to convince others to back a tough statement
saying that the EU "agreed" with her government "that it is highly
likely that the Russian Federation is responsible and that there is
no plausible alternative explanation".
Both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel
Macron, the EU's power brokers, raised the prospect of further
measures late on Thursday after expressing solidarity with Britain
just days after the attack.
Concerned about neighboring Russia, Lithuanian President Dalia
Grybauskaite said she was ready to expel Russian spies.
"I think that national measures will be applied already starting
from next week," she told reporters on Friday.
Other Baltic states, Poland and Denmark have signaled they could do
so too, action that could sting Russia, which is preparing for the
soccer World Cup in June.
But the deep divisions over how to handle Russia were again on show,
with other, some smaller nations, saying they could not join a
coordinated expulsion; some said they could ill afford Russian
retaliation against their own Moscow embassies, some of which employ
barely a handful of accredited diplomats.
Austria said it did not plan to expel Russians.
For May and her team, however, the show of support went above their
expectations, keenly away that Britain's departure from the EU has
put strains on their relations.
"This is about us standing together to uphold our values," May told
reporters on leaving the summit in the early hours.
(Writing by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and
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