WASHINGTON: In one of the strongest actions taken by the NATO alliance in decades, seven Russian diplomats were expelled and three more were denied accreditation, adding to the 140 Russians expelled from a host of European countries, America, Canada and Australia.
The extraordinary action by NATO, made even more pungent since it was announced via NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s Twitter account (Vlad, inside your decision cycle yet?), demonstrates without question how extraordinarily confident western governments are in the British government’s findings that the government of Russia tried to murder ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on British soil.
It also demonstrates clearly that Putin has not been able to divide NATO with his combination of bluster, economic incentives, terror activities (that’s what the attempted murder is — state-sponsored terrorism with a weapon of mass destruction), cyber espionage and invasion of neighbors over the last few years.
The NATO expulsions, added to the bilateral expulsions of more than 150 Russian diplomats by at least 27 countries, may be the largest global expulsion of presumed Russian spies ever. It is certainly the most vigorous and concerted action since the end of the Cold War.
Russia says it didn’t have anything to do with the use a nerve agent Russia invented. The expulsions by the West are “boorish,” whines the Kremlin, which says NATO and its friends will face a “tough response.”
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, in one of his signature impromptu gatherings with Pentagon reporters this morning, certainly didn’t sound worried about that frightening Russian counterstrike. He said Russia had tried to ensure deniability in the attack. And he seemed to raise the possibility of a complete break between NATO and Russia on military to military relations, saying the Russians — with whom we were a “partner” — clearly “have chosen to seek a different relationship with the NATO nations.” Just for good measure, Mattis described the Russian attack simply and aggressively for what it is: “attempted murder.” It’s not often the American Defense Secretary accuses another country of attempted murder in public.
Not every country voted for the NATO expulsions, but they didn’t oppose it either. Since NATO acts on its members consensus, that meant those who didn’t say no really as good as said yes. But they can tell the Russians what they did and hope Putin isn’t mean to them.
The US, of course, expelled 60 Russians yesterday and ordered them to close their consulate in Seattle, which could have provided them excellent access to Boeing’s many facilities nearby, as well as to submarine pens at the Kitsap-Bangor base.