UPDATE: Novichok in Salisbury

Following the nerve-agent attack on U.K. soil against former Soviet spy Sergei Skripal, the U.S. and Russia have begun expelling one another’s diplomats and closing their respective embassies in an escalation of political tensions.

Relations between the two countries have been confusing at best and contradictory at worst, with the U.S. president congratulating Putin on his reelection one day and hiring anti-Russia John Bolton as national security advisor the next.The United States has moved to expel 60 Russian diplomats in solidarity with the United Kingdom and its NATO allies following the nerve-agent attack against former Soviet spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter on U.K. soil in early March.

The U.S. joins 25 other countries in the expulsion of Russian diplomats, including Australia, Germany, Ukraine, France, Canada, the Netherlands, Italy, and Poland.

According to British Prime Minister Theresa May, it is the “largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history,” with more than 135 expelled.

In response, Russia has expelled 60 U.S. diplomats, who must leave the country by this Thursday, in addition to the more than 50 U.K. diplomats expelled over the last two weeks.

However, the U.S. expulsion of Russian diplomats rings hollow considering the president of the U.S. has also invited newly reelected Russian President Vladimir Putin to the White House.

The U.S. president has also reportedly avoided bringing up Russia’s hacking of the U.S. power grid, showing that he isn’t quite ready to take a truly hard-line stance against his favorite world leader.

British authorities continue to assert that they do in fact have proof that Russia is responsible for the March 4 attack against Skripal and his daughter.

Nearly a month later, Skripal remains in critical but stable condition, while his daughter, Yulia, is said to be steadily improving.

Russia, however, continues to deny any involvement, and has described the expulsion of diplomats in the U.K. as, “an attempt on the lives of Russian citizens on the territory of Great Britain.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry has submitted a list of questions to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW; the teeth of the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1997 [CWC]) pertaining to the investigation of the poisoning.

Mainly, Russia wants to know what kind of help Britain called the OPCW for, and which methods the agency used to collect the substance responsible for poisoning the pair and potentially exposing dozens more.

Right now, it’s unclear what the consequences may be if Britain and the OPCW do not answer Russian questions, but it is quite clear that the shock waves from this incident are far from dispersed.

As I discussed in our original story, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand came at a unique time when a multitude of factors were coalescing simultaneously to create the perfect political storm that would eventually lead to the first World War, yet there are still some alarming similarities between what would come to be called the July Crisis and the current state of global affairs.

After his assassination, the Austrian government issued a diplomatic ultimatum to Serbia requiring, among other things, that the country allow Austria to participate in the internal investigation of Ferdinand’s death.

Serbia accepted all terms of the agreement, except the allowance of such participation in the investigation, which ultimately caused the breakdown of negotiation and the initiation of World War I.

Now, I’m not saying that the attack against Skripal and his daughter will trigger World War III — I think we’re much more likely to enter that front with North Korea — but I do think that is unwise to write this off as just another international incident.

The use of chemical weapons is, on its own, enough cause to warrant severe consequences for the Russian government if it is indeed confirmed that they were responsible. But to use such weapons on foreign soil and to expose an unpredictable number of innocent bystanders is unconscionable — it cannot be tolerated.

Declaring something intolerable, however, is in-and-of-itself issuing an ultimatum; and the nasty thing about ultimatums is that they can be just as damaging to the party that issues it.

If the U.K. manages to prove Russian involvement, and if the U.S. and the NATO allies decide to back Great Britain in taking serious action against Russia — whatever that may be — there’s a good chance that global tensions will reach a boiling point.

You can read Iron Triangle Press’ original story here.


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