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Russia Has Yet To Formally Respond To Expulsion Of Its Diplomats

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We're still waiting to learn what Russia will do in response to the mass expulsion of its diplomats from more than 20 countries, including the U.S. The announcement from the U.S. and its allies came Monday. It follows Britain's accusation that Russia poisoned a former double agent and his daughter on British soil. The Kremlin denies having anything to do with it.

Joining us now from Moscow is Russian journalist and political commentator Konstantin von Eggert. Welcome to the program.

KONSTANTIN VON EGGERT: Hello.

CORNISH: I want to acknowledge that today is a day of mourning in Russia. There some-60 people were killed in a fire at a shopping mall a few days ago. Is this why we haven't seen a specific response from the Kremlin about the diplomatic expulsions?

VON EGGERT: Possibly, although I also think that the Kremlin was taken by surprise by this massive diplomatic response from 20-plus countries, and they have to work out their own response because, for example, NATO has expelled seven plus three Russian diplomats from Brussels from the Russian mission to NATO. But if you look at NATO, NATO has two missions in Moscow, and both are on skeleton staff. You - I think there's only one diplomat in each. So I suppose that even reciprocity here is a bit of a problem.

CORNISH: Are there other ways Russia can use its leverage to respond?

VON EGGERT: Yes, I think that probably one of the three remaining U.S. consulates will be closed because the United States closed a Russian consulate in Seattle. And I also think that Russia generally has fewer tools at its disposal. So even a symmetrical response will be quite a difficult thing to do for Moscow.

CORNISH: As we mentioned earlier, many countries are involved. And, of course, this stems from an incident that happened in the U.K., but we hear Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov essentially saying that the U.S. is behind this coordinated expulsion. Can you talk about how the government there is portraying the U.S.-Russia relationship in this moment?

VON EGGERT: Oh, it's the old Moscow song, which will continue to be sung. The sun for the Kremlin rises and sets in Washington. America is behind everything. The government is pushing this line very aggressively, and it's pushing it first and foremost of all for the domestic audience. And people in Russia who don't know much about America, about Britain, about the outside world generally, they believe it.

CORNISH: People have talked about a changing relationship between the U.S. when it comes to the Trump administration. In the end, is this proven not to be the case?

VON EGGERT: Oh, I think if you believe that Russia tried to hack the American elections, it was probably one of the biggest mistakes that any Russian government has ever committed. You know, there was this heightened expectation of Trump being so friendly to Russia, that he will now lift sanctions and everything will be hunky dory. No way.

I think that what we've seen - we've seen actually quite a turn for the worse as far as Moscow is concerned since Trump administration is in. Trump can talk to Putin no matter how many times, but the actions of the U.S. government are actually much tougher than those that we've seen under the Obama administration. And now, when you see people coming into the administration like Mike Pompeo or John Bolton, it doesn't look like these people are particularly Russophilia.

So what I think we're looking at is a situation in which the Russia policy will be completely out of the hands of Donald Trump, and it will be a policy that will be mostly directed by Congress and by hawks in the military and the security establishment. I think it's not a very good case for Russia.

CORNISH: Konstantin von Eggert is a journalist and political commentator. He spoke to us from Moscow via Skype. Thank you so much.

VON EGGERT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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