Tales of the New Cold War: Escalation
Stephen F. Cohen @NYU @Princeton eastwestaccord.com
"...The symbolism, then, comes from the synchronization of the expulsions—it is that fact, more than the difficulty of losing this or that diplomat abroad, that will register in Moscow. It was not entirely obvious that the United Kingdom would be able to successfully negotiate a coördinated policy response with a body, the European Union, that it is in the process of leaving; nor that the Trump Administration, marked by its capriciousness and penchant for isolationism, led by a President with a demonstrated affinity for Putin, could be persuaded to join in. The fact that U.S. and European officials were able to pull off this small feat of multilateral diplomacy suggests the notion of Western security coöperation may yet have some steam left in it. In calling the expulsions a “provocative gesture of solidarity,” the Russian Foreign Ministry was perhaps accidentally a bit too honest in revealing what Moscow finds most troubling in the move.
But it is also telling that, although many E.U. governments moved to expel Russian diplomats from their territory, almost half did not—exactly the sort of intra-E.U. split that the Kremlin has been hoping for and trying to foster for years. Last week, Alexis Tsipras, the Prime Minister of Greece—which is not expelling any diplomats—gave a squishy position on the Skripal poisoning, offering his country’s “solidarity” with the United Kingdom, but remained noncommittal on countermeasures, saying, “We need to investigate.” On Monday, the center-right Austrian government, led by a party with long-standing ties to Russia, also declined to join the expulsions. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has said that the nation wants to serve as a “bridge-builder between East and West.” These policy differences are a thread on which the Kremlin will continue to pull, and now it knows exactly where the seams are...."