The ‘Besieged Russian Fortress’ Retaliates: Closure of U.S. Consulate and Expulsion of Diplomats from 23 Countries
In retaliation against the recent expulsion of Russian diplomats from numerous Western countries, the Kremlin has announced the closure of the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg and the expulsion of 60 U.S. diplomats from the country by April 5th. Following this statement, 59 diplomats from 23 other nations were also expelled from Russia in disavowal by the Kremlin of their collaborative action taken to remove Russian diplomats from their nations.
In response to the international scandal in March surrounding the poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom, the West has assailed Russia in solidarity with the U.K. by removing a number of Russian diplomats from many prominent Western nations, including the United States. While these were notable moves by the West towards defining a limit of intolerance against increasingly belligerent Russian behavior, they have served to incite and enrage a Russian opponent not easily intimidated or ready to admit its fault.
Contrite in the wake of the global diplomatic backlash, Russia took to social media to declare its ready rebuttal, seen when the Russian Embassy in Washington Tweeted to its followers asking which U.S. Consulate to close within Russian borders. The Kremlin was frank in its disapproval of the West’s readiness to charge the Russian government with responsibility in the attacks played out on the Skirpals, and was eager to insinuate an anti-Russian agenda on part of the United States for eliciting such widespread action against Russia. Dmitri S. Peskov, the spokesman for Putin, said that the global response exhibits no more than, “gangsterism in international affairs,” alongside the Russian Foreign Ministry’s accusations that the U.S. is seeking to, “[foment] a slander campaign against [Russia],” and ultimately is, “[aiming to ruin] bilateral relations,” between the two world powers.
Such a hostile Russian response signals what Maria Snegovaya identifies as Russia cashing in on its, “‘besieged fortress’ image,” in which it exploits its victimization at the hands of the West to garner popular political support. The coordinated Western response to the Skirpal incident favorably exacerbates Russian public opinion towards the country’s own victim-campaign, playing directly into the hands of Putin in shaping his domestic ideology against the West.
The development of this Russian persona of innocence could not have fallen at a more tragically convenient time for Putin’s anti-Western outlook, as international expulsions of Russian diplomats fell on the night after a horrific fire that left many Russian children dead. Thus, the Kremlin finds ready justification for its retaliatory expulsions against Western diplomats and its tempered hostility towards a presumed gang-mentality harbored by the West.
With an air of cultivated innocence on its side, it remains unknown how resolutely Russia will defy outcries of the international community against the Skirpal attacks. Continuing to deny any responsibility or direct involvement in the accusations brought against the Kremlin, Russia righteously stands by its retaliatory moves to dispel agents of the West while distancing itself from international liaisons it sees as consistently seeking to undermine it. For now, the stalemate between the East and the West will continue as channels for dialogue disintegrate with the departure of key diplomatic figures from either side of the transatlantic.