LONDON (Reuters) - British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said coordinated expulsions of Russian diplomats announced on Monday showed that the use of nerve toxin on a former Russian spy on English soil had brought to a head international frustrations with Moscow.
In an interview with Britain’s public broadcaster the BBC, Johnson said Britain and its allies had no quarrel with the Russian people, only with President Vladimir Putin’s administration.
The United States said it would expel 60 Russian diplomats, and Canada and 20 European states including France, Germany and Ukraine together expelled over 50 more, to punish the Kremlin for the attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, accepting Britain’s analysis that Moscow was to blame.
“The reason they got it was because they suddenly realised that this could happen in their own towns, in their own cities,” Johnson said. “They suddenly could see that this was a new kind of threat and that Russia was behaving in a particularly reckless way, and particularly contemptuous of civilised norms.”
Britain had already expelled 23 Russian diplomats in response to the attack, saying it had been carried out using Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union. Moscow has rejected the accusation, saying it amounts to “banditry” on Britain’s part.
“For many other governments, what happened in Salisbury sort of crystallised their own frustrations, their own disappointments with the way the Russian state has been behaving,” Johnson said in the interview.
He rejected the suggestion that the measures were leading towards a new and dangerous Cold War with Moscow.
“It’s very, very important to stress that our quarrel is not with the people of Russia, not with Russian culture, civilisation ... Our quarrel is exclusively with the Kremlin and the current administration ...
“The objective of this global collective action is for the world to signal that the doubts and fears about that Kremlin action have crystallised,” Johnson said.
“Russia is a great, great country, but it doesn’t have to be great in this way, and what the world is saying to Russia today is that particular style of behaviour, ... these endless provocations — we’ve had enough of them.”
Reporting by Kevin Liffey; Editing by Catherine Evans