SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia said on Tuesday it will expel two Russian diplomats in response to a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain that the British government has blamed on Moscow and hinted at a possible boycott of the World Cup.
The United States said on Monday it would expel 60 Russian diplomats, joining governments across Europe in punishing the Kremlin. In total, 100 Russian diplomats were being removed, the biggest Western expulsion of Russian diplomats since the height of the Cold War.
“Together with the United Kingdom and other allies and partners, Australia is taking action in response to the recent nerve agent attack in Salisbury, UK,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced in a statement.
“Two Russian diplomats identified as undeclared intelligence officers will be expelled by the Australian government for actions inconsistent with their status, pursuant to the Vienna Conventions.”
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said there were other possible actions, such as Australia boycotting the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
“There are a whole range of further options of action that could be taken. The boycott of the World Cup is one of the further actions that could be taken in relation to this matter,” Bishop told reporters in Canberra.
The governing body for Australian football said that as far as it was concerned, the World Cup was going ahead as planned.
“As things stand, all qualifying teams, including the England team, will be taking part in this FIFA event and that continues to be our intention,” Football Federation Australia said in an emailed statement.
Australia had already imposed a series of sanctions against Russia following the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 and the Russian annexing of parts of Ukraine in 2014.
Traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Flight MH17 was shot down in 2014, killing all 298 passengers and crew. Most of the victims were Dutch and 28 were Australian.
International prosecutors concluded the airliner was shot down by a missile fired from a launcher brought into Ukraine from Russia and located in a village held by pro-Russian rebels, contradicting Moscow’s suggestion that Ukraine’s military brought down the plane.
(Reporting by Wayne Cole and Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry and Nick Macfie)