21 countries, including the United States, Canada and Australia have expelled Russian diplomats over the UK poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. 11 EU countries including Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Slovenia refrained from the measure. Moscow slammed the expulsions, saying they would not contribute to the poisoning probe, and pointing out that it had not received any concrete evidence of Russian involvement in the crime.
Speaking to Radio Sputnik, Dr. Portela, a professor at the University of Valencia's school of law, explained why the diplomatic expulsions were a mild measure, including compared to sanctions measures already approved by some Western lawmakers.
Sputnik: What will this unprecedented response by Western countries do to relations between Russia and the countries involved?
Clara Portela: It doesn't seem to me that this is such a big deal, because the type of response that has been chosen, which is the expulsion of diplomats, is really a very symbolic and mild measure. It doesn't have any economic character, it doesn't affect the population at large, and most importantly, it is not based on any binding legislation, meaning that it can be reversed very easily.
[So] it seems to me that this is mostly a symbolic measure that is intended to deliver a message of disapproval; but it will not have any lasting consequences. It can be reversed easily, and it probably will be reversed in the mid-to-long term.
Sputnik: What can you say about the fact that these measures were taken before a consensus by experts or a full investigation into the poisoning event has been completed?
Clara Portela: I think that we would all feel more comfortable if measures had been taken after the investigation had been fully completed. However, this has to be qualified, because normally, in order to conduct an investigation that supposedly concerns officials from a foreign country, or has linkages to a foreign country, you need the cooperation of the foreign country, in this case the Russian Federation.
Secondly, my suspicion is that there might be some evidence that is already conclusive, but that cannot be displayed to the public eye; because if it is true that this involved secret services, this might be too sensitive, and the way in which the evidence might have come to the fore might display to the public the way in which secret services operate, which is not something that can be disclosed publically.
Sputnik: What can you say about President Trump's response? The strongest response was from the US. This seems to have been a sort of a turnaround for him, judging from his prior relationship toward Russia and good relations with Vladimir Putin. What do you think this decision says about Trump?
Clara Portela: I think that President Trump has been under pressure because of his close relations to Russia; particularly during the election campaign, there has been an investigation that concluded that there were way too many and too close exchanges with actors associated with Russian authorities during the election campaign. The fact that he has been postponing putting sanctions into effect that have already been approved by Congress is something that is making him look bad vis-à-vis the public.
So this expulsion of diplomats is a very mild, mostly symbolic measure. It is hardly as serious as the sanctions that have been approved by Congress. By carrying out this expulsion of diplomats, he's sort of trying to make up for the fact that he has not appeared in the media to be responding adequately to the requests of Congress, and to have maintained sufficient distance from Russia during the election campaign.
The views and opinions expressed by Clara Portela are those of the expert and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.