Canada and the U.S. have joined a worldwide effort to punish Russia with the expulsion of more than 100 diplomats from allied countries in response to a nerve-agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland announced Canada is expelling four Russian diplomats and denying three applications from the Russian government for additional diplomatic staff shortly after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the expulsion of 60 Russians from the United States and closed the Russian consulate in Seattle on Monday morning. The moves followed the lead of more than a dozen European countries and Ukraine in expelling Russian officials – a show of solidarity with Britain after the attack in Salisbury earlier this month.

Ms. Freeland said Canada will expel four Russian diplomats who served as intelligence officers or used their diplomatic status to

“The nerve agent attack in Salisbury, on the soil of Canada’s close partner and ally, is a despicable, heinous and reckless act, potentially endangering the lives of hundreds,” Ms. Freeland said in a statement.

“This is part of a wider pattern of unacceptable behaviour by Russia, including complicity with the Assad‎ regime [in Syria], the annexation of Crimea, Russian-led fighting in eastern Ukraine, support for civil strife in Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and other neighbouring countries, interference in elections, and disinformation campaigns.”

Speaking to reporters on Parliament Hill on Monday, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said three of the expelled diplomats work at the Russian consulate-general in Montreal and one works at the embassy in Ottawa. He said they have to leave Canada within 10 days.

British Prime Minister Theresa May directly implicated Russia in the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia. British investigators said the Skripals were exposed to a class of nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Both remain critically ill in hospital.

The Russian government, which has rejected the allegations, called the co-ordinated expulsion of diplomats an “unfriendly step” and criticized countries for following London’s lead in blaming Russia for the attack.

“We express our strong protest in the wake of the decision taken by a number of EU and NATO member countries to expel Russian diplomats,” read a statement on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website on Monday.

“British allies don’t have any objective and exhaustive data and blindly follow the principle of Euro-Atlantic unity at the expense of common sense, the rules of civilized state-to-state dialogue and the principles of international law. It goes without saying that this unfriendly move by this group of countries will not go unnoticed, and we will respond to it.”

The Russian embassy in Ottawa issued its own statement on Twitter, calling the Canadian government’s move “deplorable and outrageous.”

“This unfriendly move under false and biased pretext delivers yet another serious blow to Russia-Canada relations and will be met with resolve and reciprocity,” the statement said.

The Russian embassy and Global Affairs Canada did not respond to a query about the identity of the expelled Russian diplomats by deadline.

Ms. Freeland said the sanctions are not aimed at the Russian people, “with whom Canadians have long and fruitful ties.” She said Canada remains committed to dialogue and co-operation with Russia in areas where the countries face common challenges.

Jeremy Kinsman, former Canadian ambassador to Russia, said the bilateral relationship has deteriorated to the point where, aside from the presence of embassies in each other’s countries, the two governments have “virtually zero relations.”

“[Relations are] worse than any time that I can remember, and I’ve been doing this for almost 50 years,” said Mr. Kinsman, who served as Canada’s ambassador in Moscow from 1992 to 1996.

“Even in the worst days of the Cold War, I think we were still playing hockey.”

The Globe and Mail, March 26, 2018