PM Malcolm Turnbull
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks during a news conference in Sydney, Australia, July 10, 2016. Reuters/Paul Miller/AAP

Australia has followed the UK and other allied partners in kicking two Russian diplomats out of the country. The diplomats have been identified as undeclared intelligence officers and are expected to depart Australia within seven days.

The move is in response to the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter living in the UK. The British government accused the Russian Federation of attempted murder, announcing punitive measures against the country. Prime Minister Theresa May expelled 23 Russian diplomats on March 14, the biggest expulsion in decades. On Monday, US President Donald Trump also ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats.

Australia followed suit on Tuesday, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop confirming the removal of two Russian diplomats from the country. Turnbull said that two diplomats identified as undeclared intelligence officers, and who will be expelled for actions inconsistent with their status. They are to depart Australia in seven days.

“This decision reflects the shocking nature of the attack — the first offensive use of chemical weapons in Europe since World War II, involving a highly lethal substance in a populated area, endangering countless other members of the community,” Turnbull told reporters in Canberra.

“It takes into account advice from the UK Government that the substance used on 4 March was a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia. Such an attack cannot be tolerated by any sovereign nation. We strongly support the call on Russia to disclose the full extent of its chemical weapons program in accordance with international law.”

He continued, “This attack is part of a pattern of reckless and deliberate conduct by the Russian state that constitutes a growing threat to international security, global non-proliferation rules against the use of chemical weapons, the rights of other sovereign nations and the international rules-based order that underpins them.”

Turnbull also named the annexation of Crimea, invasion of Ukraine, the downing of Malaysia Airlines MH17, as well as “unacceptable Russian action in cyberspace.”

Nerve agent attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal

On March 4, former Russian military intelligence officer and British spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with a chemical determined to be a Novichok nerve agent in Salisbury. They remain in serious condition at different hospitals. The detective who visited his house had also been in a serious condition but has since been discharged from the hospital.

May said that the poison identified was part of Russian-developed nerve agents known as Novichok. Russia has previously produced the agent and is believed to be still capable of doing so.

Newly re-elected Russian President Vladimir Putin denied the accusations, saying that the country had destroyed all their chemical weapons under the supervision of international organisations. In retaliation from the British, Russia announced that it was expelling 23 British diplomats and closing the UK’s consulate in St Petersburg as well as the British Council office in Moscow.

A number of EU member states have also condemned Russia in its alleged action. Other allies, including Canada, New Zealand and Mexico, have also called the act despicable. Canada has expelled four Russian diplomats.