Over 140 Russian diplomats are to leave more than 25 countries, including most members of the EU, as well as the US, as their governments followed the UK urge to expel Russian officials over Moscow's alleged involvement in the attack on former intelligence officer Sergei Skripal in the UK city of Salisbury.
Alexander Belonogov, who served as a Soviet envoy to the UN and as ambassador to Egypt and Canada, explained what is behind the reserved diplomatic terms.
Temporary Recall of Ambassador
The former high-ranking diplomat told Sputnik that the temporary withdrawal of an ambassador for consultations is the mildest demonstration of discontent. Short term absence of the chief envoy hardly influences the state of diplomatic relations. To be accurate, all ambassadors travel to their homelands’ capitals for consultation.
“In this particular case the government, recalling its ambassador, sends a message by this act. Under other circumstances it’s just a part of the routine, which occurs as necessity arises,” said Belonogov.
He emphasizes it’s the most feeble reaction, but it’s still quite often used to express discontent.
Expulsion of Diplomats
Belonogov points out that expulsion of diplomats is a much more serious measure, as it means that the expelled person would not be able to get a visa to the country he had to leave under these circumstances.
“The expulsion [of Russian diplomats by some countries] seems even more serious than the usual outcome. Taking into account the fact that NATO countries exchange information with each other about the diplomats, whom they suspect of improper activities, being sent out from a NATO state means he can’t set his or her foot onto any other ally’s territory. So this is a pretty serious matter,” warns Belonogov.
The government of the host country picks the person it wants to expel on its own, so the strike could be more or less painful. It depends on what the desired result of this particular country is.
Shutting Down Consulates
“Closing consulates is a popular and very painful measure. These missions have a lot of functions, including many important ones for normal relations. Numerous consulates in this or that country signals mutual interest in developing relations and the maturity thereof,” the former diplomat told Sputnik.
When consulates are closed, it means that the volume of bilateral relations in economy, culture and others will shrink. In my opinion, closing a consulate is more painful than expelling diplomats,” he stressed.
He warned that a further step can be a break in diplomatic relations, when all diplomatic contact is shut down, which is the maximally severe form.
On March 4, Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench at a shopping center in Salisbury and are currently being treated for exposure to what UK experts believe to be the A-234 nerve agent. The UK side claimed that this substance was developed in the Soviet Union and accused Russia of orchestrating the attack.
The Russian side has strongly rejected the accusations and offered assistance in the investigation. However, Moscow's request for samples of the chemical substance used to poison Skripal was denied.
The UK expelled 23 Russian diplomats and called on other countries to undertake the same measure.