Several important factors impose the pressure against the diplomats' home country (in general and in this particular case):
- Expelling the diplomats quite often ruins the entire spy network;
- Expelling the diplomats is often only the first step in a chain of escalating events;
- This particular expulsion is unique by its size and future consequences.
Ruin the entire spy network
Although the expulsion of 23 of totally 58 accredited Russian diplomats may seem a half-measure, it is not. It is not about those 23 physical people who will surely be appointed, say, to work in the Russian embassy in another country. The recent expulsion of Russian diplomats indicates that accredited diplomats were on top of a large network of local agents and collaborators.
When in December 2016 the US expelled Russian diplomats, the Russians were forced to destroy evidence of their "work" on the soil of the US. We don't know how many local agents were left without cover, but we can safely assume that the number of "active measures" has radically dropped since then — at least, temporarily.
Smoke billows from a chimney on top of the Russian consulate in San Francisco
Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images
Also, the fewer personnel the embassy has, the less legal support the Russian citizens who legally live in the U.K. will receive. This will impose the pressure on the Russian government from oligarchs who have settled in the West, whose property is in the West, whose children study in Western universities, and sometimes even barely speak Russian because for all their life they have lived in the West.
One Slice at a Time
The proposed chain of measures to put Russia off further attacks is impressive. It includes:
- closer monitoring and financial sanctions against top Russian officials and oligarchs who have settled safe in the U.K.;
- more pressure on Russian propaganda that still actively works against British citizens;
- convincing partner countries (US, France, Germany) and organizations (NATO) to join the multilateral attempt to stop the Russian "active measures" in Europe and in the world.
Also, Russia anticipates the U.K. extraditing 40 criminals, including serial killers. So it is possible that 17 more are to be expelled.
The Unique Event
The Independent puts it this way:
The biggest expulsion of Russian spies from the UK for more than 30 years has been ordered by Theresa May, as she vowed to degrade the country’s espionage network “for years to come”.
However, the main message must be that, for the first time in its modern history, the U.K. officially acknowledges a chemical attack against the Kingdom (against the citizens of the UK, occurred on British soil) and condemns it.
Personal opinion: I'm monitoring the Russian press, and the hysteria there (like "a-ha-ha, look, the Queen will not attend a sports competition! Give us MORE sanctions like that!") only confirms my impression that this time the U.K. is doing the right thing.