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The spies that went back to the cold

Britain's NATO allies escalated their response to the nerve gas attack in Salisbury this month by locking up a handful of Russian diplomats (spies). This is a welcome demonstration of alliance solidarity, though

Wladimir Putin

will not be impressed until the West goes abroad for Russian money.

The US expels 60 Russians, including 12 working at the United Nations in New York, the largest diplomatic eviction of Russians on record. The Trump administration is also forcing the Russians to close their Consulate in Seattle because it's a haven for espionage because of its proximity to a naval base. This follows the forced closure of the Consulate in San Francisco last year and the repatriation of Russian missions to New York and Washington.

In a coordinated move, Canada, Ukraine and at least 1

5 Member States of the European Union or candidate countries have also expelled several dozen Russian spies, in addition to the 23 diplomats, Britain had already sent packaging. Further expulsions from other countries could follow.

All this is in response to the March 4 attack in Salisbury, where Russian agents used a banned nerve gas to murder a Russian double agent living in Britain. The attack also poisoned the daughter of the intended victim and a police officer. Hundreds of residents were warned to wash their clothes thoroughly.

The Kremlin and its apologists in the West, as the British Labor leader

Jeremy Corbyn,

still try to pretend that there are doubts about Moscow's guilt. In the real world, Washington, Paris and Berlin have confirmed London's view that there is no plausible alternative explanation. But not everyone is on board or wholeheartedly. The Greek government, which excluded no one, was at the forefront in Brussels last week to downplay Russia's responsibility and prevent an EU response.

The danger is that Monday will be the pinnacle of the European united front for Russia. Putin's real vulnerability is the cash and other assets held by his cronies around the world. Some NATO allies recognize the weakness and how to exploit it. The US has imposed financial sanctions on Putin employees in recent years. The UK will adopt a Magnitsky Act to sanction Russian human rights abusers, a law that is already in force in America, and Lithuania has imposed sanctions on some Russians on Monday according to its law.

A broader agreement could prove elusive. The EU has imposed sanctions on Russians since 2014 in response to the launch of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on Ukraine. Inevitably there is pressure to loosen them if they are renewed every six months. Some countries that issued diplomats this week, such as Italy, are less supportive of the extension of sanctions. Germany, which smuggled out four Russian diplomats, helps Putin build a gas pipeline through the Baltic Sea that will enable him to use energy to blackmail Central Europe.

Prime Minister

Theresa May

deserves credit for the burden of proof of Russia's responsibility and the establishment of a coalition of horrified people. But Putin will ignore this united front if he can only send spies. He will not change his behavior until he pays a serious price – and that means money.

Published in the printed edition of March 27, 2018.

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