Dutch expel Russian diplomats over Skripal poisoning; MH17 survivors feel ignored

Stef Blok (Photo: Rijksoverheid.nl/Wikimedia Commons)Stef Blok (Photo: Rijksoverheid.nl/Wikimedia Commons)

The Netherlands is deporting two Russian diplomats to show solidarity with the United Kingdom following a poison gas attack on ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England. Relatives of people who died in the MH17 disaster are upset that the Dutch government is doing so now, but did not send Russian diplomats away after the Malaysia airlines flight was shot down.

Despite there being no "clear evidence" that Russia was behind the poison gas attack, it is important that Western countries show solidarity with the British, Minister Stef Blok of Foreign Affairs said, according to NOS. "As the Netherlands, we align ourselves with the great probability that England upholds." A clear message should be sent to Russia. "Namely: cooperate with the investigation and provide clarity so that ht perpetrators can be found and tried. This signal is needed to get the truth on the table", Blok said.

The Netherlands is expelling two intelligence officers who work at the Russian embassy in The Hague. 

On Twitter foundation Vliegramp MH17, which represents the relatives of those who died in the MH17 disaster in 2014, asks for an explanation about why the Netherlands now decided to deport Russian diplomats. "Can someone explain to us why diplomats are now massively expelled after an attack by the Russian Federation on two Russians and not one expulsion after an attack on 298 civilians, in which the Russian federations seems to be involved?" the foundation wrote. 

"We find that difficult to understand. Anyone who can explain that to us is welcome", Piet Ploeg, speaking on behalf of the foundation and relatives, added to RTL Nieuws. He points out that investigations into the MH17 disaster showed that the plane was shot down over eastern Ukraine on 17 July 2014 with a Russian BUK missile system, fired from a field controlled by Pro-Russian separatists. "So there seems to be Russian involvement." While Russian involvement has not yet been demonstrated in the poison gas attack, he said. "There has been no lawsuit, nothing."

According to Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the two cases can't be compared. The Netherlands must be neutral in the MH17 case, because otherwise the investigation will be discredited, he said according to RTL Nieuws. "If we point the finger to one country, then the chances decrease that we will ever get the perpetrators to court", Rutte said. "If the Public Prosecutor says: do A or do B, we will do it. But we can not do it ourselves, because then we will damage the investigation."

Blok said something similar, according to NOS. He understands that relatives make the comparison, but emphasizes that the situation around MH17 is different. "The Dutch Public Prosecutor is currently conducting investigation into finding the perpetrators and getting them to court. It is in the interest of that the investigation that the Public Prosecutor is given room, it will not help if I take measures now."

A total of 18 countries expelled Russian diplomats in the aftermath of the poison gas attack - 14 EU member states, the United States, Canada, Ukraine, and Sweden. Last week Great Britain deported 23 Russian diplomats. Russia responded by expelling 23 British diplomats. The Russian government announced that it will repay action in kind. "It is not very surprising that Russia reacts strongly", Blok said. He takes into account that Russia will deport two Dutch diplomats. 

According to Blok, the relationship between the West and Russia is already difficult, and this will not make things easier. "But actions from the Russian side make it inevitable that we, from the Dutch an from the European side, must show that there are lines that can not be crossed." According to the Minister, it is absolutely not the intention to start a new Cold War. "It is understandable that this comparison is drawn, but you have to judge every time and every complicated conflict on its own merits."

Sergei Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer who acted as a double agent for the U.K.'s intelligence services in the 90's and early 2000's. The attack on Skripal and his daughter Julia happened in a shopping center in Salisbury on March 4th. They were severely injured but survived the attack, according to the Guardian. A number of police officers who responded to the scene first were also injured. Nerve gas novichok was used in the attack. The gas was developed by the Soviet Union in the 70's and 80's, according to NOS.  Russian president Vladimir Putin denies any involvement in the attack.