The escalation of long-standing tensions between Russia and the West over Moscow’s alleged poisoning of a former Russian spy in the UK will increase the chances of a nuclear confrontation, an American writer and academic says.

Sergei Skripal and his daughter are critically ill in a UK hospital after being poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent in the southern English city of Salisbury last month.

The US has ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats in response to the poisoning. Up to 17 EU countries and Australia have also announced that they will expel dozens of Russian diplomats.

It was the biggest such expulsion since the height of the Cold War era, a term that describes the tense relationship between the US and the Soviet Union from 1945 to 1989.

There are now fears of a serious diplomatic crisis and a freezing in relations between Moscow and the West which has raised the specter of the Cold War once again.

This crisis will push the Kremlin to form stronger economic alliances with countries like China and Iran and further diversify its economy, said James Petras, a professor emeritus of sociology at Binghamton University in Binghamton, New York.

“There is a real threat of military nuclear war,” Petras told Press TV on Wednesday.

“The Russian are aware that they must diversify their economy and move toward countries which have expressed a willingness to avoid US sanctions,” namely China and Iran,” he added.

In solidarity with Britain, Trump on Monday ordered the closing of Russian consulate in Seattle and the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats that Washington considers spies.

A Trump administration official said all 60 Russians were spies working under diplomatic cover, including a dozen at Russia’s mission to the United Nations.

They said the expulsions meant to send a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the “unacceptably high” number of Russian intelligence operatives in America.

The expelled Russians have been given seven days to leave the US. Twelve were accredited to the United Nations in New York.

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Russia says it will retaliate with expelling Western diplomats.

Moscow has rejected the poisoning claims as “absurd,” saying the substance used in the attack could have originated from the countries studying it, including Britain itself. It has offered cooperation with London in probing the case.

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