The Australian government has expelled two Russian diplomats it describes as undeclared spies, joining a coordinated, global response to the Skripal nerve agent attack.
The Australian move follows the collective expulsion of 100 Russian diplomats from the United States, Europe and Canada.
The officials have seven days to leave the Australia, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a joint statement Tuesday.
The coordinated expulsion of Russian diplomats is a response by the UK’s allies to the nerve agent attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury this month.
It is the biggest expulsion since the Cold War.
Mr Turnbull told reporters in Canberra the alleged nerve agent attack demanded a response.
“To do nothing would only encourage further efforts to undermine the international rules-based order upon which our security and prosperity rely,” he said.
The Prime Minister said Moscow’s alleged actions in targeting the Skripals “reflects a pattern of recklessness and aggression by the Russian government”.
He said those actions include the annexation of Crimea, the invasion of eastern Ukraine and the downing of MH17, as well as efforts to manipulate western nations’ elections.
Menna Rawlings, the British High Commissioner to Australia, welcomed the announcement.
“Thank you Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop for your unwavering support,” Ms Rawlings posted to Twitter.
“Nerve agent use on British soil demands concerted diplomatic action to avoid culture of impunity and to support our collective security. Great to have Australia and others with us.”
Thank you @TurnbullMalcolm and @JulieBishopMP for your unwavering support. Nerve agent use on 🇬🇧 soil demands concerted diplomatic action to avoid culture of impunity and to support our collective security. Great to have 🇦🇺 and others with us. pic.twitter.com/7YQ4VOwokt
— Menna Rawlings (@MennaRawlings) March 26, 2018
Australia has also joined calls for Russia to disclose the full extent of its chemical weapons program.
The government noted it also still had sanctions in place against Russia over its involvement in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014.
Mr Turnbull and security agencies briefed Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on the expulsion ahead of the announcement.
The Labor leader supported the measure.
“There is no doubt that the actions Russians had taken in England has caused international outrage and that Australia along with many of its allies is taking commensurate responses to it,” Mr Shorten told reporters in Canberra.
“These are undeclared agents and so therefore it is inappropriate that they be in Australia.”
US President Donald Trump ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats earlier Tuesday in his toughest action against Moscow since taking office.
Mr Trump also closed the Russian consulate in Seattle.
“Today’s actions make the United States safer by reducing Russia’s ability to spy on Americans and to conduct covert operations that threaten America’s national security,” White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
“With these steps, the United States and our allies and partners make clear to Russia that its actions have consequences,” she added.
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson praised the “extraordinary international response” by Britain’s allies.
Russia has vowed to retaliate against the new “provocative gesture” by each country accordingly.
Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement strongly protesting the global decision to expel diplomats, calling it unfriendly, confrontational and provocative.
“Pulling out indiscriminate accusations against the Russian Federation in the absence of explanations of what happened and refusing to engage in substantive interaction, the British authorities de facto took a prejudiced, biased and hypocritical stance,” the statement said.
The attack on the Skripals was the first known offensive use of a nerve toxin in Europe since World War II, and European Union member states agreed on Friday to take additional measures against Russia.
The Seattle consulate on the west coast state of Washington was selected for closure because of its proximity to a US submarine base and to plane-maker Boeing Co, the US officials said.
Governments expel diplomats under the Geneva convention on diplomatic relations.
It states that a country can ask the representatives of another nation to leave at any time and without explanation.
In April 1983, Bob Hawke’s Labor government expelled the First Secretary, Valery Ivanov, from what was then the Soviet embassy over spying.
More recently, in 2012, Australia expelled all Syrian diplomats in response to atrocities in Syria.
-with AAP, ABC