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U.S. Not Alone In Expelling Russian Diplomats

NOEL KING, HOST:

The U.S. and its allies in Europe are expelling dozens of Russian diplomats in response to the use of a nerve agent in the U.K. The British government says Russia was behind the attack that involved the attempted murder of a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter. A senior administration source says the U.S. will expel 60 Russian diplomats and their families. They have seven days to leave the U.S. For more on the reaction in Russia and what the Europeans are doing, we're joined by NPR's Lucian Kim in Moscow and by NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Berlin.

Good morning, you guys.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON AND LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: Soraya, let me start with you. This was a coordinated action by the U.S. and its allies. What have the Europeans done?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Well, it's interesting. As you mentioned, there were coordinated announcements going on in various capitals all at the same time...

KING: Wow.

NELSON: ...To show a solidarity with U.K. But the numbers compared to the U.S. numbers are pretty small here in Europe. I mean, we're talking Germany expelling four, France expelling four, the Baltics expelling three, with the exception of Estonia, which actually got rid of the Russian defense attache. And so you're talking about very small numbers. The exception was a non-EU country, and that's Ukraine. They expelled 13, with President Petro Poroshenko saying that, you know, he wanted to show solidarity with the EU, and he was demanding that there be even more pressure put on Russia in the coming days.

KING: Germany is a very politically and economically powerful country and yet, as you say, only expelled four Russians. Why is that?

NELSON: Well, even those four were very difficult. According to the foreign minister, Heiko Maas, he tweeted that this was a very difficult decision. And a lot of it has to do with the fact that Germany is very economically dependent on Russia, especially for gas - for natural gas. It's the largest energy supplier. And they're just - there's a lot of pressure on the German government, which, of course, is new and just recently came to power here. And it's not as popular, frankly, as the idea of having better relations with Russia, which a recent poll showed 72 percent of Germans want that relationship to stay as it is or improve.

KING: And in this coordinated action, did all of these countries give the same reason, the same justification for expelling Russian diplomats?

NELSON: More or less. I mean, it was coordinated language, and it was basically to show solidarity with the U.K. over what happened there with the former spy...

KING: Lucian...

NELSON: ...and his daughter.

KING: Lucian, I want to go to you now in Moscow. How is this being reported in Russia, and how's it being received?

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Well, of course, the main news today is this terrible shopping mall fire. But state media, everybody is reporting on this. And the foreign ministry - the Russian Foreign Ministry - has actually just issued a statement. It's protesting this move, calling it unfriendly and saying it won't really help the investigation into the Skripal's poisoning. Obviously, this was not given - it was not completely unexpected, given media reports. But even as early as today - or as late as today, the Kremlin was still trying to play it down. And on the one hand, I mean, the fact that so many countries participated, it shows that the Russia - shows Russia that the U.S. and its allies are really united. But at the same time, it will feed into a very popular narrative here that the West is ganging up against Russia.

KING: Oh, that's really interesting. So I wonder, in that case, do we expect Russia to respond to this massive wave of expulsions by expelling U.S. or European diplomats?

KIM: (Laughter) Absolutely. I mean...

KING: OK.

KIM: Today, the Kremlin spokesman - his name is Dmitry Peskov. He didn't really want to go into any details, but he said any response was reciprocal - would be reciprocal. And this has been the Russian position from the beginning of this worsening in relations. Anything the West does, the - Russia will respond reciprocally.

KING: Do we expect them to respond quickly?

KIM: Well, I mean, the last example we have is when the - when Britain expelled 23 Russian diplomats, that response was relatively quickly - relatively quick. So right now, we're just waiting to see what kind of a response they come up with.

KING: None of this is likely to help relations between Moscow and the West, is it?

KIM: Absolutely not. I mean, relations at this point are really at a low point. And as I said, right now this shows Russia, which has been trying to always play on differences within the Western alliance, that there is actually a united front.

KING: NPR's Lucian Kim in Moscow and Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Berlin. Thank you guys so much.

KIM: Thank you.

NELSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.