The timing of the alleged Russian poisoning of the defector was uncanny. It was the week before PM May was going to have her final showdown with the EU on BREXIT negotiations. Then there was the positioning and May’s carefully crafted House of Commons statement a few days later, in which she invoked the full spectrum of NATO’s “common defense” one-for-all clause. By so doing PM May indicated that the common defense treaty member states had to take their queue from the UK concerning the response to Russia on the poisonings. So when UK announced the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats, that set the precedent to be followed by all the others, including the USA. Essentially the UK used this very tragic event to put itself as the lead for the NATO alliance and EU in setting Russia policy. In the short term, it will be very difficult now for the other member states to fall out of step with the direction and content of policy determine by the UK on Russia.
This map shows the first expulsions from NATO.
Notable also was who did not expel Russian officials within the first 48 hours. Israel and Norway did not expel. India and China did not expel. Latin America did not expel. Africa did not expel. So effectively the only countries that actually expelled Russian diplomats were those duty bound to follow example by treaty obligations.
So where is this going? Is Russia likely to please guilty? And what is the eventual end of this initiative?
Obviously poisoning cannot be reversed. Neither can hacking or election rigging, all allegations against Russia. Europe still needs Russian gas and Russia needs markets and technological support to update and renew its aging economy. Russia still has Africa and Asia where they can and do maintain significant economic relations, however Russia really needs Europe to leapfrog economic rejuvenation.
Putin does care about these expulsions; they don’t fit his world view of what and where his own brand of emperor-style leadership is taking Russia, restoring her to former glory. But he cannot be faced down like this. This will only set him more determinedly against giving into the demands from the West. His only option now is to blame someone else in his government or an extra-governmental force like a terrorist cell or saboteurs being paid by an external funding source, for these events. A faction in his army? A indirect coup attempt?
It is not going to be easy to step down the policy and rhetoric currently on display from the Western alliance. No matter what the truth of the situation and who initiated it, this has effectively kicked off a more aggressive cold war. Retreat or detente will be difficult to achieve if this punitive action goes much further. Ironically, under different circumstances, a post-BREXIT UK and Russia would make excellent trading partners.