Messages to Russian president from US and EU leaders called nauseating and an insult

Donald Trump and Jean-Claude Juncker have violated ranks with western disapproval for Vladimir Putin, issuing their congratulations to the Russian leader for his electoral success even as diplomats were flown out of the UK in retribution for the Salisbury nerve agent attack.

The two leaders were heavily criticised on Tuesday for their overtures to Moscow, which transgressed a taboo among western leaders in appearing to endorse the Russian leader's re-election to a fourth word in power.

The leader of the Conservative party in the European parliament, Ashley Fox, described a letter from Juncker, president of the European commission, as “disgraceful”, while Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament's representative in Brexit talks, tweeted:” This is no time for congratulations .”

In the US, Senator John McCain resulted the criticism of Trump's choice of words by calling it an” insult to every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election “. He added:” An American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections .”

Other western leaders have acknowledged Putin's victory, including Germany's Angela Merkel and the French chairwoman, Emmanuel Macron. But both avoided explicitly using the word “congratulate”, instead” wishing success” to Putin for his new six-year word in office.

The apparent indiscipline in Washington and Brussels will frustrate British officials, who have urged a united front among Western leaders in the aftermath of the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia. The assault has plunged relations between London and Moscow to their worst level in a generation.

Adults
Adults and children committee a plane at Stansted airport taking expelled envoys and their families to Russia. Photo: Chris Radburn/ Reuters

In the UK about 80 expelled Russian diplomats and their families boarded a plane to Moscow. A escort of buses and people carriers left the embassy in London at about1 0am with family members, some holding pet carriers, also insured boarding the vehicles.

Embassy workers waved to the leaving diplomats and their families as the bus pulled away, a Reuters photographer at the scene said.

With tensions high as Russian diplomats elsewhere in Europe expressed their opposition to the move, Fox, the Tory MEP for South-West England& Gibraltar, reached out at Juncker for failing to mention the Salisbury nerve agent assault against” innocent people in my own constituency”, and called his memo to Putin ” nauseating “.

Others on social media hit out at Juncker's message to Putin after the EU had promised to support the UK amid heightened tensions following the attack.

EU officials raised concerns about the tone taken by Juncker, with one source stressing that the European council president, Donald Tusk, had” not sent such a letter up to now and I would not be surprised if he did not send one at all “.

Verhofstadt tweeted 😛 TAGEND

Guy Verhofstadt (@ guyverhofstadt)

This is no time for congratulations. We will always require dialogue with Russia, but closer ties must be conditional on respect for the rules based international order& fundamental values https :// t.co/ iVfhLB6TrL

March 20, 2018

Speaking at the White House, Trump corroborated he had called Putin to” congratulate him on his electoral victory “. Trump and Putin did not discuss the above poisoning in Salisbury of the former double agent Skripal, the Kremlin told the Interfax news agency.

Trump added:” We had a very good bellow, and I suspect that we'll probably be fulfilling in the not-too-distant future .”

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Trump congratulates Putin, saying he will satisfy him ‘in the not too distant future'- video

Talk of an” limbs race” has increased since Putin held a blood-pumping country of the nation address this month where he showed off Russia's newest nuclear weapons, blaming the US for leaving the anti-ballistic missile pact, and telling his audience:” They didn't listen to us then. Listen to us now .”

Juncker, in his letter, offered his congratulations and wished the Russian leader” every success in carrying out your high responsibilities “.

The message, which the commission on human rights chairman made publicly available in a tweet, added:” I have always argued that positive closer relations between the European Union and the Russian Federation are crucial to the security of our continent. Our shared objective should be to re-establish a cooperative pan-European security order.

” I hope that you will use your fourth word in office to pursue the millennium development goals. I will always be a partner in this endeavour .”

Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, said Russia had to be held responsible for the attack but added:” There has to be an utterly definitive answer to the question: where did the nerve agent come from ?”

Speaking to the BBC, the Labour leader said that it was important to deal with Russia where necessary.” Would I do business with Putin? Sure ,” he said.” And I'd challenge him on human rights in Russia, challenge him on these issues and challenge him on that whole basis of that relationship .”

Fox questioned Juncker's failure to raise criticism of the election process and the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, for which Theresa May has pointed the finger at the Putin administration.

” To congratulate Vladimir Putin on his election victory without referring to the clear ballot-rigging that took place is bad enough. But his failure to mention Russia's responsibility for a military nerve agent attack on innocent people in my own constituency is nauseating ,” said Fox.

” The European committee chairman is appeasing a man who poses a clear menace to western security .”

The MEP tweeted 😛 TAGEND

Ashley Fox MEP (@ Ashleyfoxmep)

How nauseating: https :// t.co/ CWnFqZXiiQ

March 20, 2018

Another senior Tory, Sarah Wollaston, who chairs parliament's health and liaison committees, told 😛 TAGEND

Sarah Wollaston MP (@ sarahwollaston)

Shameful https :// t.co/ OaPQadr1QE

March 20, 2018

Britain has turned to the EU for support over Salisbury. While additional sanctions against Russia are not on the orders of the day of the leaders' summit in Brussels on Thursday, an official said the focus would be on attribution of the attack and solidarity.

Tusk was said by an EU official to be sympathetic to Downing Street's analysis and approach.

May chaired a session of the national security council on Tuesday at which pastors discussed strict new checks by perimeter officials on private flights.

The move is one of a series of actions agreed at a previous session after the Salisbury attack, which are focused on tracking people entering the country who could pose a threat to national security.

” Action has also been taken at the UK's border to enhance our efforts to monitor and track the intentions of those travelling to the UK who could be engaged in activity that threatens the security of the UK and of our friends ,” the prime minister's spokesman told.” This includes strict checks by border officials on private flights .”

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