27 Mar 2018

NZ only Five Eyes member not to retaliate against Russia

7:22 pm on 27 March 2018

New Zealand is now the only member of the 'Five Eyes' alliance not to take retaliatory action against Russia over the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter.

British police say the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury, southern England, is being treated as attempted murder.

British police say the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury, southern England, is being treated as attempted murder. Photo: AFP

Five Eyes is an intelligence alliance made up of Australia, Canada, Britain, the US and New Zealand.

Today, Canada, Australia and the US joined the UK and a number of European Union countries in expelling dozens of Russian diplomats and undeclared intelligence staff.

Britian has blamed the nerve attack directly on Moscow and has been urging its allies to take retaliatory action.

Russia's Foreign Affairs Ministry has strongly protested against the decision by other nations to expel diplomats, calling it unfriendly, confrontational and provocative.

It denies any role in the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury, southern England. The pair, who were poisoned with what investigators say was a military-grade nerve agent, remain in a critical but stable condition in hospital.

Australia is throwing out two diplomats suspected of being "undeclared intelligence officers".

When he announced Australia's move, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had some stern words for Russia.

He said Australia wouldn't tolerate the reckless undermining of international law or the assault on the sovereignty of nations.

Mr Turnbull said he stood in solidarity with Britain and its allies.

"The brazen attack, the criminal attack in the United Kingdom in Salisbury on the fourth of March was an attack on all of us," he said.

"It was an attack on every nation that respects the rule of law and that is why we are taking this action today."

Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said there were two diplomats in Canberra identified as undeclared intelligence officers, who had been told to leave the country within seven days.

She said the nerve agent attack was just the latest in a string of incidents where Russia had threatened the democratic world.

"Political assassinations, cyber attacks, illegal annexation of Crimea, invasions of other countries territory, Georgia, Ukraine, their disruptive role in the investigation into the downing of MH17," she said.

'We don't have Russian undeclared intelligence officers here'

However, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the expulsions were of covert intelligence agents and she believed Russia had none in New Zealand.

"We have done a check in New Zealand. We don't have Russian undeclared intelligence officers here," she said. "If we did, we would expel them."

Ms Ardern's decision has been backed by National Leader, Simon Bridges.

"I agree that we need to have a critical eye on issues such as this, but the Prime Minister's position as I understand it is there are no, effectively, spies and so I take her at her word," he said.

"But I would hope and expect she'd be taking these sort of matters...seriously."

Security consultant Paul Buchanan said he couldn't tell if Ms Ardern's comments were highly democratic, disingenuous or just plain naive.

He said three of the eight Russian diplomats in New Zealand were attaches, who were widely known to be intelligence collectors.

"They can be military, they can be from the intelligence services - but they are the credentialed intelligence collectors assigned to any embassy, particularly great power embassies," he said.

"It's akin to an open source intelligence collection service...they don't engage in espionage per se but they're there."

But, Massey University Professor of Defence and Security Studies, Rouben Azizian, said the global expulsion of Russian diplomats was more of a stunt which wouldn't make a big difference.

"Why do we have to wait until a chemical attack happens? Russia has been under sanctions by Western nations for a long time," he said.

"And yet, being under sanctions, I understand that all these Western countries tolerated a large number of intelligence officers."

Professor Azizian said he couldn't fathom how a country like the US could have let the officers operate for so long.

"We're talking 60 people from the US," he said.

"Are we saying the US tolerated 60 undeclared intelligence officers in the United States for all these years?"


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