Dr Huma Baqai

THE largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history happened as a response to nerve agent attack in the UK, in show of solidarity that represents the biggest concerted blow to the Russian intelligence networks in the west since the Cold War. Raj Shah, a White House spokesperson, said, US expulsion were part of “a coordinated effort”. He further said President Trump spoke with many foreign leaders, “European allies and others encouraging them to join with the United States in the announcement.” Twenty nations expelled more than hundred Russian diplomats. Sixty of these hundred are from US, the move also includes the closing of the Russian consulate in Seattle. The US had already closed the Russian consulate in San Francisco in August 2017, to punish Russia for expelling 755 of its diplomats.

Expulsion is an act and not a policy, as it stands now it does not seriously affect Russia in any way. There will of course, be tit-for-tat expulsion, at the very least from the Russian side, said Mark Sleboda an independent international affairs analyst living in Moscow. He further added that like sanctions, the expulsions of diplomats provide heads of states with the opportunity to grand stand, but the actual impact is minimal. It is very symbolic in nature. However, this is perhaps signaling the formal enactment of the second Cold War, or marks the return of the Cold War. The last expulsion on a similar scale occurred in 1985, when Britain expelled 25 alleged Soviet spies after Oleg Gordisvksy, a senior KGB agent defected to Britain. The incident sparked tit-for-tat diplomatic moves, ultimately resulting in the removal of 31 Soviet Agents from Britain and the same number of Britain from the Soviet Union. At the time, there were concerns that the expulsion could derail bilateral relations just as the cold war was starting to thaw. Diplomatic expulsion is an old tactic and may have limited or no impact in contemporary world on intelligence gathering. Under Putin, Russia is a different animal altogether. Act such as these may have no impact on the new antagonistic entity. The Russian Ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov hits back by saying, “the US took a very bad step by cutting what very little still remains in terms of Russian-American relations.”

Russian-American relations are in bad shape, becoming confrontational by the day. Russia has become central to the conflicts, US is engaged in, by acting against US interests. The Kremlin has extended support to North Korea and Iranian government even as the Trump administration seeks to isolate them. Supports and shores up the rule of Syrian President Bashar-Ul-Assad, defied international sentiment by forcibly revising Ukrainian borders has developed new nuclear weapons to evade US defense. In South Asia also, the Russian intervention in Afghanistan and its relations with the Taliban go against US interest. Top US Commander in Afghanistan has accused Russia of aiding Taliban.

General John Nicholson has said, he would see “destabilizing activity by the Russians”. Meanwhile a US Congressional Intelligence Committee has just published report concluding that Russian provocateurs meddled in the 2016 elections. Pakistan, a long term US ally, is feeling the brunt of Washington abandonment and is actively cultivating Moscow and its being reciprocated. This volatile state of Russian relations with the United States and the west, makes Cold War look sane. “If you look for similarities with what is happening, it is not the Cold War that can explain events but Russia’s first revolutionary regimes, which regularly assassinated opponents abroad,” said Mr. Kurilla, a historian at European University at St. Petersburg. He further said Putin, had no interest in spreading a new ideology and fermenting world revolution, unlike the early Bolsheviks, but the Russia under Putin had “become a revolutionary regime in terms of international relations.”

Kadri Liik, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on foreign relations explains the Putin logic by saying “Putin does not do disruptions just for fun, but because he is Putin and he can.” Each time Russian has been accused of act like seizure of Crimea in 2014, shooting down of a Malaysian passenger plane over Eastern Ukraine, Moscow responded with fierce denials and conspiracy theories that put the blame elsewhere. Ian Bond, a former British diplomat in Moscow said, diplomacy during the Cold War, even when it involved hostile action turned to follow a relatively calm and orderly routine. No longer is that the case, he added, noting the Russian embassy in London and the foreign ministry in Moscow have issued statements tweets mocking Britain as an impotent has-been power and scoffing at the Salisbury poisoning as the so called Sergei Skripal case. Moscow is annoyed, Washington has towed the British line in leading the new Cold War. The making suggests a world order, more dangerous than the Cold War.

— The writer is Associate Professor, Dept of Social Sciences & Liberal Arts at IBA Karachi.

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