The Biden administration’s expulsion of ten Russian diplomats on Thursday brought about a tit-for-tat response from Moscow almost immediately. Now, it appears the move and countermove have set off a string of similar actions between Russia and Ukraine, as well as a growing number of other European countries.
The exchange between Ukraine and Russia has come about because of events in St Petersburg on Friday. Alexander Sosonyuk, Ukraine’s consul in St. Petersburg was accused of receiving classified information and was taken into custody by the FSB (Federal Security Bureau) on Friday. There has been no explanation of exactly what type of classified information Sosonyuk was allegedly found in possession of. Later in the day, the Russian foreign ministry informed the Ukrainian government that Sosonyuk must leave the country by Thursday. The Ukrainian foreign ministry responded by announcing that a senior Russian diplomat will be expelled from Ukraine on Monday.
Fresh on the heels of that, the Czech Republic today announced the expulsion of 18 Russian embassy officials linked to an ammunition depot explosion in 2014. Prime Minister Andrej Babis said earlier today that Czech intelligence agencies have provided him with clear evidence about the involvement of Russian embassy officials in the blast that killed two people. While the expulsion of diplomats suspected to be intelligence officers is nothing new, the timing of the Czech move raises an eyebrow. With so many nations directly or otherwise involved in the Ukraine crisis now trading PNG (persona non grata) declarations, one has to wonder where it will all end. Also, these moves will adversely affect tensions in the region over the coming days.
On the diplomatic front, expect to see more expulsions also in the next few days. For what it’s worth, don’t be surprised if Belarus, or another Russian ally steps up and declares a number of Western diplomats to be declared persona non grata. That’s how the game is played.
In the last 24 hours the world has been presented with two entirely different messages from the White House concerning both the crisis in Ukraine and the present state of US-Russian relations. The first message came in the form of a naval maneuver yesterday. The US cancelled the planned deployment of two destroyers into the Black Sea as tensions between Russia and Ukraine remain at a dangerous level. An announcement by the Russian defense ministry earlier in the day stating that Russian naval units in the Black Sea will be undertaking a live fire exercise appears to have deterred the US from sending its warships into the region.
The second message came earlier this afternoon when President Biden announced that the US is facing a ‘national emergency’ over certain Russian actions over the past year. Specifically, Russia’s alleged interference in the 2020 US Presidential Election, and cyber hacking, of which there is a very clear record of Russian actions. As a form of retaliation for this activity, the US is imposing financial sanctions on Russia and the expulsion of ten Russian diplomats from the United States. No mention of the Russian military buildup near Ukraine’s borders was mentioned. However, earlier in the day Secretary of State Antony Blinken did speak briefly on the buildup. According to a senior administration official, the US response is intended to be “resolute but proportionate” to Russia’s actions, while emphasizing that the U.S. wanted to avoid an “escalatory relationship.”
So, on one hand, the Biden administration has cancelled a deployment of US warships to the Black Sea region following Russia’s announcement of a live fire exercise in the area. There’s no way to mask the fact this move appears to be a tactical retreat by the US in the face of a Russian threat. It’s safe to assume that Vladimir Putin will be encouraged to move more forcibly on Ukraine both politically and militarily since, in his eyes, the US has shown it will not respond to his provocative actions militarily.
On the other hand, President Biden is talking tough by placing punitive sanctions on Russian financial institutions and taking diplomatic action against Russian diplomats. He has stated his desire to deescalate the tense status of the relationship between the US and Russia, while also warning that the US will take stronger action in the future if the situation calls for it. Again, Putin will likely take this as a sign of indecisiveness and a reluctance by the Biden administration to engage Russia on the Ukraine situation and take a firm stance.
It’s clear that the Biden administration is handling Russia with kid’s gloves right now and is failing the first true foreign policy test of Joe Biden’s term.
The week is off to an active beginning on a host of fronts around the world. From London to Riyadh and further on to Beijing geopolitical screws are turning, a diplomatic crisis is deepening, and the two year anniversary of a conflict has been marked in an explosive manner.
Russian Diplomats Face Being Expelled Across Europe and North America
Dozens of Russian diplomats will be expelled from European nations and the United States as the fallout from the nerve agent poisoning of a former Russian spy on British soil continues to expand. Over twenty nations have sided with Great Britain, including the United States and many of its European allies. More than Russian 100 diplomats are being declared persona non grata and formally deported. The consensus among Great Britain’s allies has been that Russia is responsible for the nerve-agent poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury. Russia denies any involvement in the matter and has called the latest expulsions a ‘provocative gesture.’ Moscow also vowed retaliation.
Speculation Places Kim Jong Un In Beijing
Rumors of a senior North Korean delegation, possibly led by Kim Jong Un, broke today when photos of a special North Korean train arriving in Beijing came to light. The train is one used in the past by North Korean leaders for travel around North Korea and beyond. Photos of the train in Beijing were provided by Japan’s Nippon Television. The train was reportedly met at the train station by an honor guard, and line of VIP automobiles.
If Kim is present in Beijing, the timing is interesting. North Korean and South Korean officials are scheduled to meet next week to prepare for a meeting between the leaders of both nations in the near future. Beyond that is the potential meeting between Kim Jong Un and President Trump that is in the works.
Houthi Ballistic Missiles Strike Saudi Arabia
On the second anniversary of the start of the Yemen war, Houthi rebels launched a volley of Iranian-manufactured ballistic missiles against four Saudi Arabian cities. Missile trails, and spectacular explosions lit the night sky over the Saudi capital. Four missiles were intercepted over Riyadh. No vital targets were struck, according to Saudi officials, though one civilian was killed and a handful injured. Missiles were also launched at the southwestern cities of Khamis Mushait, Najran, and Jazan. No damage or casualties were reported there. If the Houthis were hoping for a propaganda victory from the attack they couldn’t be more wrong. The missile strike has been condemned around the world and serves as a shining example of why the Saudi war effort must be continued.