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Australia expels two suspected Russian spies

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The Australian government is expelling two Russian diplomats it believes are undeclared spies, joining other world powers in taking action over the Skripal affair in the UK.

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The officials will have to leave the country within seven days, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop revealed today.

“It reflects a pattern of recklessness and aggression by the Russian government,” Turnbull told reporters in Canberra.

They include the annexation of Crimea, the invasion of eastern Ukraine and the downing of MH17, as well as efforts to manipulate western nations’ elections.

The UK, United States and European allies of Britain have expelled 100 Russian diplomats over the nerve agent attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, the biggest expulsion since the Cold War.

Turnbull said the latest incident had demanded a response.

“To do nothing would only encourage further efforts to undermine the international rules-based order upon which our security and prosperity rely,” Turnbull said.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott said it was absolutely right for Australia to take strong action against Moscow.

“I think that right around the world there is just this horror and revulsion at the idea that Putin’s death squads are stalking the streets of England,” he told reporters in Canberra.

“The idea that the leader of a serious country would be sending his death squads into the quiet provincial cities of England to stalk people who he regards as his enemies is absolutely and utterly abhorrent.”

Menna Rawlings, the British High Commissioner to Australia, also welcomed the announcement.

“Thank you Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop for your unwavering support,” Rawlings posted to Twitter.

“Nerve agent use on British soil demands concerted diplomatic action to avoid culture of impunity and to support our collective security. Great to have Australia and others with us.”

Australia has also joined calls for Russia to disclose the full extent of its chemical weapons program.

The government noted it also still had sanctions in place against Russia over its involvement in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014.

Turnbull and security agencies briefed Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on the expulsion ahead of the announcement.

“There is no doubt that the actions Russians had taken in England has caused international outrage and that Australia along with many of its allies is taking commensurate responses to it,” Shorten told reporters in Canberra.

“These are undeclared agents and so therefore it is inappropriate that they be in Australia.”

Leading national security analyst Peter Jennings, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, says Russia will almost certainly respond by expelling some Australian diplomats.

– AAP

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