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Colonial Obedience in the Balkans: the Expulsion of Russian Diplomats with Massive Public Distrust

Countries which expelled Russian diplomats in Europe

At the end of March, the British government accused Russia of attempted murder of a former Russian spy and his daughter in the United Kingdom, announced diplomatic sanctions against the Russian Federation including the expulsion of numerous diplomats, and asked many Western allies to follow its steps. On 4 March 2018, former Russian military intelligence officer and British spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal were poisoned in the city of Salisbury in England, with a Novichok nerve agent allegedly developed in the Soviet Union and Russia. A couple remains in hospital, and doctors have indicated that Sergei may never fully recover, but Yulia was conscious and able to communicate. Sergei, today a British citizen, was an officer for Russia's GRU and a double agent for British SIS, and he settled in the UK in 2010 following the spy swap. Immediately after the incident, the British officially accused Moscow of standing behind the attack, without presenting any concrete evidence during three weeks.

False dilemma

One week after the poisoning, the British Prime Minister Theresa May delivered a statement on the incident, offering a false dilemma: "Either this was a direct act by the Russian State against our country, or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others." She also gave a one-day ultimatum to Moscow to respond which of these two possibilities it was, in other words, to choose the way of being guilty, without the option that it is not. Of course, Russia has ignored the request, arguing it's all dishonest and it violates the principle of the presumption of innocence. A day later, the draft press statement introduced by Russia at the United Nations Security Council meeting was blocked by the UK, with London and Washington accusing Russia of breaking its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and of undermining the security of countries worldwide.

Strangely enough, the whole situation came at the time as Russian president Vladimir Putin was facing his fourth presidential election in mid-March, Russia was to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup football competition in June, and during the Russian-West tensions over the Crimean crisis and the war in Syria, where one of the disputes is the use of chemical weapons. As widely known, the United Kingdom and the United States have 'strong credibility' when it comes to chemical weapons and murder. In the 1980s, the duo supplied Saddam Hussein's regime with chemical weapons and backed him with an international political support, denied war crimes in an aggression against Iran and a genocide against the Kurds, both committed by numerous chemical attack, even falsely blaming Tehran for it. Some two decades later, they attacked their old ally with the pretense of developing a chemical weapons and killing his own people, causing the war of a million deaths. Today, the same duo is blaming Syria and Russia for murder or misusing chemical weapons.

"International community" show

The UK unveiled a series of measures on 14 March in 'retaliation' for the poisoning attack, and one of the chief measures was the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats which May presented as "actions to dismantle the Russian espionage network in the UK," as these diplomats had been identified by the UK as "undeclared intelligence agents." London received support from the United States and other allies like the EU, NATO, and its members who also took similar measures against Russia. Trump ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian officers and closure of Russian consulate in Seattle, Ukraine expelled 13 diplomats, France and Poland 4, and so on. This 'International community' show, the well-established strategy which relies upon gathering client states to project their own interests under pretense of the group, included several countries in the Balkans: Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Romania.

Albania expelled two Russian diplomats on Monday, as Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati communicated the order to the Russian ambassador, Alexander Karpushin, announcing that two diplomats were now personae non grata. Russia had a diplomatic staff of 28 in Tirana in 2017, compared to 24 in 2014. Romania's diplomatic relations with Russia have been tense in recent years, especially since Russia annexed the Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Bucharest has issued several statements in the past week expressing its solidarity with Britain over the nerve gas incident. On the same day, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said Zagreb had decided to show "solidarity with the UK" and declare one Russian diplomat unwelcome, but he did not disclose the name of the diplomat. Later on Monday, Macedonian foreign ministry also announced it will expel one Russian diplomat, and on Wednesday the Montenegrin government notified an unidentified diplomat at the Russian Embassy in Podgorica to leave the country within seven days.

On the other hand, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Slovenia and few other countries have indicated they will not expel any Russian diplomats, arguing there's no evidence for the Russian involvement in attempted murder. Public opinion is largely on the pro-Russian side, for example surveys conducted on popular portals in Croatia show that 77% of respondents believe that their country should side Russia, while 22% believe that it is necessary to follow the path of the United Kingdom and the European Union.

The poll showing 77% pro-Russian and 22% pro-UK/EU support

A large number of commentators criticized the moves of politicians, calling them as careerists who are doing everything to get the foreign support for well-paid jobs in the EU institutions in the future.

Filip Vuković

Filip Vuković is a Serbian politologist and investigative journalist from Belgrade, covering the western Balkan area for Serbian, English and Italian outlets. His focus is on nationalism, ethnic tensions and economic policy in the post-Yugoslav area. Currently, he is preparing a PhD dissertation at the University of Padua.