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Australia ‘to expel two Russian diplomats’

Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (photo by AFP)

Australia, a political subject of the United Kingdom, has decided to expel two Russian diplomats in a spate of expulsions of Russian diplomatic personnel over allegations that Moscow has been behind the poisoning of a former Russian double agent in the UK.

“Together with the United Kingdom and other allies and partners, Australia is taking action in response to the recent nerve agent attack in Salisbury,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Tuesday, referring to the British city where Sergei Skripal and his daughter were allegedly poisoned.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said other measures, such as boycotting the 2018 Russia World Cup, could be taken, as well.

More than 20 Western countries, including the United States, have ordered the expulsion of dozens of Russian diplomats as part of seemingly coordinated attempts against the Kremlin.

Skripal, 67, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, fell ill in Salisbury on March 4. They remain hospitalized in critical condition.

The UK was quick to blame Russia, claiming that the nerve agent used in poisoning the duo had been made in the former Soviet Union.

Moscow has offered to cooperate with London to probe the incident, and has said the alleged nerve agent could have even originated in Britain itself.

Specialists have also said the alleged nerve agent could have been stolen in the aftermath of the collapse of the former Soviet Union, when security at chemical sites was allegedly lax.

London expelled 23 Russian diplomats soon after the incident and as its own investigation into the matter was still ongoing.

Moscow reciprocated the expulsions.

The US, meanwhile, said on Monday that it would expel 60 Russian diplomats in an apparent show of solidarity with the UK.

Moscow quickly fired back, announcing plans to expel 60 US diplomats in a retaliatory gesture.

Ukraine was expected to eject more than a dozen Russian diplomats. Canada, Germany, France, and Poland were to expel four Russians each; Lithuania and the Czech Republic were to expel three; and Albania, Denmark, Macedonia, Italy, and the Netherlands were to expel two. Estonia, Latvia, Croatia, Finland, Hungary, Sweden, and Romania also said they would expel one.

In total, 100 Russian diplomats were being ejected from Russian embassies in Western or Western-backed countries.

However, some Western politicians have criticized the move, saying alienating Russia would only create deeper problems.

Austria, which media had speculated would expel two Russian diplomats, said it had chosen not to do so.

“We will not expel [Russian] diplomats,” Austrian government spokesman Peter Laundry-Tieffenthal said. “The reason for this is that we intend to keep open channels of dialog with Russia. Austria is a neutral country and a kind of bridge between East and West.”

Laundry-Tieffenthal said, however, that Vienna supported “the decision to recall the EU ambassador from Moscow.”

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