Russia Escalates Cold War II

After a British spy was poisoned in the U.K. earlier this month, at act of provocation that Western intelligence agencies concluded was, expectedly, perpetrated by Russia, the U.K. expelled 23 Russian diplomats in retaliation. Fourteen additional European Union countries, Ukraine, Canada, and the United States followed suit, resulting in the expulsion of more than 100 Russian diplomats in total, which comprised the largest Western expulsion of Russian diplomats since the height of the Cold War.

Last year, after both houses of Congress passed legislation to impose sanctions on Russia, which Donald Trump eventually signed into law, Vladimir Putin, who had threatened retaliation if the bill passed, made good on his threat, seizing two U.S. diplomatic properties in Moscow and ordering the U.S. Embassy to reduce its staff immediately. (For which Trump, incredibly, thanked him.)

And this time, it's no different: Putin threatened retaliation, and here it is.

Richard Pérez-Peña at the New York Times reports:
The Kremlin announced on Thursday that it would expel 60 American diplomats, and probably dozens from other nations, intensifying Russia's clash with Europe and the United States.

The action, which also includes closing the American consulate in St. Petersburg, was in retaliation for the expulsion of more than 150 Russian officials from other countries — itself a reaction to a nerve-agent attack on British soil that Britain and its allies have blamed on Moscow.

The United States ambassador to Russia, Jon M. Huntsman Jr., was summoned to the Foreign Ministry, the foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, announced. Sixty American diplomats will be expelled from Russia — the same as the number of Russian diplomats whom Washington is expelling. The Americans were given until April 5 to leave the country.

In addition, Russia plans to expel an unspecified number of diplomats from the more than 20 other countries and NATO that joined Britain and the United States in expelling Russians. Mr. Lavrov said the number would "mirror" the number of expelled Russians, which suggested that the ultimate total might rise above 150. (Britain and Russia have already each expelled 23 of the other country's representatives.)

The crisis over the poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter has driven tensions between the Kremlin and the West to their highest pitch in decades. The tit-for-tat responses raise the prospect of further, more serious escalations, either public or clandestine.
This is a pointed escalation, and it comes at a time when the United States' State Department is in absolute shambles.

In fact, at the Washington Post, Carol Morello reported yesterday that "more than 200 former U.S. ambassadors and veteran diplomats" are so freaked out by the eroded state of U.S. diplomacy that they have all signed a letter "expressing alarm over the slide in U.S. leadership in the world and urging senators to grill Mike Pompeo about his plans to reverse the corrosion of the State Department if he is confirmed as secretary of state."

The Republicans won't; the Democrats might; and it won't matter either way because Pompeo will get confirmed and he has zero interest in restoring the State Department to functionality, especially where Russia is concerned.

I've no doubt most, if not all, of the signatories of the petition know that. But the point is that there is a lot of them, all in agreement that the Trump administration is not prepared (or willing) to meet the global challenges facing us.

And that starts with a resurgent, aggressive Russia. Who is not on our side, no matter what Donald Trump may think or what deals he believes he has made.

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