ROME, March 30. /TASS/. Italy has made a useless and counterproductive step, expelling two Russian diplomats over the poisoning of former Russian military intelligence (GRU) Colonel Sergei Skripal, which the UK blames on Russia without providing evidence, former Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said in an interview with TASS.
"When such incidents happen, there is a need to gather irrefutable evidence before taking actions," said Frattini, who is the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office's Special Representative for the Transnistrian settlement process. "I just wonder what the reason could be for attacking a long-retired agent and what Russia could benefit from it, particularly ahead of the presidential election. This incident has a lot of aspects that no one has yet explained," he added.
According to Frattini, the massive expulsion of diplomats from the Western countries was useless and counterproductive, while for Italy it was a double mistake. "Expelling diplomats at someone else’s request means that two mistakes are made. We have sent a hostile signal to our Russian friends, while Italy has always maintained close cooperation with Russia, and we also did less than our Wester partners expected," the Italian politician pointed out.
Everything indicates that London presented neither evidence nor secret details of the investigation to Rome, Frattini said. In his view, if there was evidence, British Prime Minister Theresa May would have been most interested in making it public. "It will be even worse if there is actual evidence but Great Britain did not inform its partners about it, while people have the right to know that their government received the necessary information before making serious decisions, which will affect international relations," Frattini noted.
At the same time, he said that Great Britain finds itself in a tough situation, given the uncertain future of Brexit talks with the EU. According to Frattini, London is trying to find "its footing by taking advantage of the anti-Russian obsession." "I can see logic in the British government’s policy but I cannot find an explanation why Italy joined a decision that only creates problems for us. We mistakenly followed the logic of sanctions, guided by trans-Atlantic solidarity as a NATO member, but Greece is also a NATO country but in this case it managed to say ‘enough’," he noted.
"Either our allies treat us as equals or we should make decisions based on our national interests," the former Italian top diplomat went on to say. "We are once again accommodating someone else’s request, and only by half. Clearly, the current government is weak in the first place, but it should understand that such decisions always have consequences. I hope that a new government, that the winning forces will form, will have different priorities," Frattini concluded.
On March 4, Sergei Skripal, who had been convicted in Russia of spying for Great Britain and later swapped for Russian intelligence officers, and his daughter Yulia suffered the effects of an alleged nerve agent in the British city of Salisbury. Claiming that the substance used in the attack had been a Novichok-class nerve agent developed in the Soviet Union, London rushed to accuse Russia of being involved in the incident. Moscow rejected all of the United Kingdom’s accusations, saying that a program aimed at developing such a substance had existed neither in the Soviet Union nor in Russia.
However, without presenting any evidence, the UK expelled 23 Russian diplomats and announced other restrictive measures against Moscow. In retaliation to the UK’s steps, 23 British diplomats were expelled from Russia, the British consulate general in the city of St. Petersburg was closed and the British Council had to shut down its operations in Russia.
On March 26, in the wake of the Skripal incident, a number of EU member countries, the United States, Canada and Australia announced the expulsion of Russian diplomats. In particular, Washington expelled 60 diplomatic workers and closed the Russian consulate in Seattle.