Will Russia Expel US Ambassador Over Joe Biden’s ‘War Criminal’ Comment and What Would That Mean?

It came in the form of a breaking news alert From Moscow.

Russia had summoned the US ambassador and filed a formal complaint, reportedly over Joe Biden’s claim that Vladimir Putin was a ‘war criminal’, the Reuters news agency flash said. .

There was more. Russia had told US diplomat Ambassador John Sullivan that relations between the two countries were “on the verge of breaking down”.

Even amid the deluge of news triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Moscow’s Monday morning announcement was enough to capture people’s attention.

Was Russia really going to expel the US ambassador, and would the US return the favor?

Besides, what would all this mean?

Russia and the United States have never broken diplomatic relations

After severing relations with Russia after the 1917 revolution, the United States recognized the Bolshevik-led administration in 1933.

Since then, through the World War II alliance and the deterioration of relations that led to the start of the Cold War, which spanned more than four decades, Washington and Moscow have always maintained diplomatic relations. Even during the most perilous times – for example during the so-called Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 – the two sides kept talking.

Wave of diplomatic expulsions

Relations between the United States and Russia have deteriorated for at least the past decade. Barack Obama and Putin seemed to hate each other. As Donald Trump sought to improve his relations with Moscow, the United States continued to impose sanctions on Russia. Many Russian diplomats were expelled in the final weeks of the Obama administration in response to Moscow’s alleged interference in the 2016 election.

In February 2022, Russia expelled Bart Gorman, the second-highest ranking US diplomat in Moscow.

A week later, the United States announced that it was in turn expelling Russia’s second-highest diplomat, Sergey Trepelkov.

At the same time, the United States expelled 12 Russian diplomats based at the United Nations in New York, whom it claimed were intelligence agents.

Meanwhile, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia expelled a total of 20 Russian diplomats, prompting a threat of an “appropriate response” from the Russian Foreign Ministry.

President Zelensky discusses priorities for Russian-Ukrainian talks

What’s behind Russia’s official complaint?

Last week, Joe Biden made his strongest personal denunciation of his Russian counterpart to date when he spoke at the White House.

“I think he’s a war criminal,” Trump said after delivering a speech at the White House.

On Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Biden’s remarks were “absolutely unacceptable and inexcusable.”

That same day, America’s top diplomat, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, echoed Biden’s words.

“Yesterday President Biden said that in his view war crimes have been committed in Ukraine. Personally, I agree,” Blinken said.

“Intentionally targeting civilians is a war crime. After all the destruction of the past three weeks, I find it hard to conclude that the Russians act otherwise.

On Monday, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that the American ambassador had been summoned, “had made a step and delivered a note of protest in connection with the recent unacceptable statements by the head of the White House”.

“It is emphasized that such statements by the US President, unworthy of a statesman of such high rank, put Russian-US relations on the brink of breakdown,” he added.

“They warned that hostile actions taken against Russia would receive a decisive and firm rebuff. When discussing topical bilateral issues, the Ambassador was sharply confronted with the issue of ensuring normal working conditions for Russian diplomatic missions in the United States, including guarantees for their uninterrupted operation.

“You should ask the Kremlin what message it wants to relay”

The US State Department said Sullivan, 62, whose uncle was a diplomat and was briefly detained in Iran after the 1979 revolution, met with Russian officials.

Spokesman Ned Price said the diplomat raised the issue of US citizens detained in Russia, including basketball player Brittney Griner and former US Marines Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed.

Asked what he thought Russia meant when it suggested relations were on the brink, Mr Price said: ‘I’ll leave it to you to ask the Kremlin, what message they might have wanted to convey .”

He added: “I can tell you the message that was relayed by Ambassador Sullivan when he met with Russian government officials.

“As you know, generally speaking, we don’t talk about every diplomatic communication, but I will say this, Ambassador Sullivan used this meeting to demand that the Russian government respect international law and basic human decency. , and allow consular access to all U.S. citizens detained in Russia, including those on remand.

Is Russia bluffing?

George Kenney, a former State Department official who resigned in 1992 because he did not believe the United States was taking a strong enough stance against Serbia ahead of a Balkan peace deal, said he It was common for lower-ranking diplomats to be expelled by different countries.

It was rarer for their ambassador to be asked to leave and for relations to be severed.

The United States severed diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 and restored them in 2015. During this period, Cuban and American diplomats operating in the other country worked in Swiss-flagged facilities. The United States and North Korea had no diplomatic relations, despite Mr. Trump’s visit to the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea and his handshake with Kim Jong-un, the one of many encounters.

Mr. Kenney argued that the United States should take the lead against Russia and end diplomatic relations.

“The fact is that if you are going to impose, as we have, these terribly draconian sanctions on Russia, and with the intention of maintaining them for a very long time, it makes no sense to have normal diplomacy. relationships,” he said. The Independent.

A fire burns in an apartment building after it was hit by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 11, 2022.

(AP)

‘Biden was deterred by Putin’s threats’

John Herbst served as US Ambassador to Ukraine from September 2003 to May 2006. He says he is saddened to see the devastation happening in the country.

Mr. Herbst says that if Russia were to sever diplomatic relations with the United States, it would be “unprecedented”; however, he doesn’t think it would change the larger geostrategic picture.

He wants to see the Biden administration maintain diplomatic relations with Russia. He says the United States needs to take a stronger stance to try to stop Russia and that diplomacy can go no further.

“They have demonstrated the ability to, to use a polite word, to ‘dissuade’ us, to use a less polite word to ‘intimidate’ us, to prevent us from taking actions that are very much in our best interests,” a- he said from Washington DC.

“I am officially in favor of a humanitarian no-fly zone, I am officially appealing the administration’s decision [not to permit transfer of Polish MiGs] as a shame, I publicly stated that the administration should have sent serious arms supplies to Ukraine in the fall. All of this, we have Ukraine in a much better place, if we had.

Mr Biden, along with the leaders of other NATO countries, have rejected calls by Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky to impose a no-fly zone, for fear of sparking a wider conflict.

He adds, “I think the Biden administration had a decent response to the Kremlin aggression, but no more than a decent one. Because they may have been deterred by Putin’s threats, and that’s an obvious weakness in an otherwise solid policy.

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