–Canberra bracing for imminent retaliation from Russia

March 30, 2018

Those two were expected to fly out of Australia this weekend.

Australia joined 26 other countries in expelling a total of about 150 Russian diplomats and spies, signalling a common cause with Britain in the wake of the nerve agent attack on former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury on March 4.

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop meets with Russian ambassador to Australia Grigory Logvinov, in her office on Wednesday.

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop meets with Russian ambassador to Australia Grigory Logvinov, in her office on Wednesday.

Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The British government has blamed the Russian government for the attempted assassination. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has also stated unequivocally that Moscow was behind the attack.

Mr Turnbull has branded the attack “a shocking breach of international law”. Labor has supported the government on the expulsion of the two Russian spies.

Moscow’s statements over the past day squarely blame Britain and the United States for mustering a collection of countries that were prepared to expel Russian officials, setting the stage for a deterioration in relations between Moscow and the West as serious as any point since the Cold War.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned overnight on Friday morning Australian time that “we are coming to a situation that is similar, to a large extent, to what we lived during the Cold War”.

The White House said in a statement responding to Moscow’s latest move: “Russia’s response was not unanticipated and the United States will deal with it.”

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert meanwhile said that Washington “reserve[s] the right to respond”.

“Russia should not be acting like a victim,” she said.

The Turnbull government has also flagged it is prepared to take further action if Moscow engages in further provocations. Ms Bishop has said some form of action over the coming soccer World Cup was an option, though the government is not weighing an outright boycott.

The US diplomats have been given a week to leave Russia but the St Petersburg consulate building had to be vacated within two days.

The escalating diplomatic confrontation puts added pressure on US President Donald Trump, who has been notably reluctant to publicly criticise Russia.

David Wroe

David Wroe is the defence and national security correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House

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