Israel Says 'No Comment' on Expulsions of Russian Diplomats Across the Globe Over Poisoning of Spy

Russian consulate in Seattle will be closed and 60 diplomats will be deported to 'make U.S. safer' ■ 14 EU nations join in, from France and Italy to Poland and Lithuania ■ Russia vows symmetrical response

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after their talks at the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017.
Alexei Nikolsky/AP

Israel refused to comment on the mass expulsion of Russian diplomats across the globe on Monday.

"No comment" was the response from the Foreign Ministry when asked about where Israel stood on the decision by the U.S., Canada and close to 20 European nations to expel over 100 Russian diplomats across the Western world over the poisoning of a former spy in the U.K.

>> Russia blames 'powerful forces' in U.S. and U.K. for chemical attack on spy <<

Two weeks ago, Israel issued its first condemnation of the use of a military-grade nerve agent in an assassination attempt on a former Russian spy and his daughter in England. However, its statement failed to mention Russia by name.

The United Kingdom expressed discontent with Israel's statement: "We expect strong statements of support from all our close partners, Israel included," officials at the British Embassy in Israel said.

FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin
\ MAXIM SHEMETOV/ REUTERS

>> Isolated From Europe and U.S., Britain’s Theresa May Has No Power to Threaten Putin | Analysis ■ 'Moscow Rules': Why Russian Defectors Are Fair Game in Britain - and Not in Israel >>

A day after Britain asked for an official condemnation, Israel issued its statement without naming Russia. "Israel views with gravity the event which took place in Great Britain and condemns it vigorously," the statement said.  "We hope that the international community will cooperate in order to avoid such further events."

Western world unites

On Monday the United States decided to shut down a Russian consulate in Seattle and deport 60 Russian diplomats from the country. The American decision was quickly followed by similar announcements by Canada and more than a dozen EU nations, which came together to retaliate for Russia's alleged use of a chemical weapon in an assassination attempt on a former Russian spy in Britain.

In a coordinated move, countries across Europe said they will also eject Russian diplomats in solidarity with Britain, which expelled 23 Russian diplomats a week and a half ago. Germany and France both said they will expel four diplomats while the Czech Republic and Lithuania will expell three. The Netherlands stated that it will deport two Russian diplomats, as did Denmark. Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko said that 13 diplomats will be sent back to Russia and Croatia said it will declare one Russian diplomat a "persona non grata," without providing any details on the diplomat to be expelled.

>> Moscow vows response after dozens of diplomats expelled by U.S., Europe <<

Estonia said it will expel the Russian defense attache in response to the attacks. Canada said it was expelling four Russian diplomats and denying accreditation for three more in response to a "despicable, heinous and reckless" attack. "The four have been identified as intelligence officers or individuals who have used their diplomatic status to undermine Canada's security or interfere in our democracy," Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a statement.

Moscow said that it will expel at least 60 staff from U.S. diplomatic missions in Russia in response to Washington's decision, Interfax news agency quoted a member of the upper house of the Russian parliament as saying.

The former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were found unconscious on a bench in the British city of Salisbury on March 4 and remain hospitalized in critical condition. 

A senior U.S. official said that Russia "conducted an attack on America's closest ally," and that it this "cannot go unanswered." The senior official described it as part of "ongoing campaign" by Russia that must be countered. "To the Russian government we say: When you attack our friends, you face consequences."

At least 12 of the Russian diplomats who will be expelled work at the Russian mission to the United Nations in New York. According to the U.S. government, they used their diplomatic status to conduct intelligence collection on American soil. The senior official said this action will minimize Russia's ability to "use diplomatic immunity to engage in intelligence operations."