Germany, Poland and Sweden expel Russian diplomats in tit-for-tat action

February 09, 2021
Sweden's Foreign Minister Ann Linde
Sweden's Foreign Minister Ann Linde

BERLIN — Germany, Poland and Sweden each announced on Monday that a Russian diplomat in their country has been declared "persona non grata" in retaliation to Moscow expelling European diplomats last week.

The German Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Russia's decision last week "was in no way justified".

Moscow alleges that the diplomats from the three European countries it expelled participated in illegal demonstrations in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

"The German diplomat in question had merely exercised his function pursuant to the Convention on Diplomatic Relations of observing developments in Russia by lawful means," the German government said.

Sweden's Foreign Minister Ann Linde said on Twitter that the Russian diplomat "is asked to leave" in "clear response to the unacceptable decision to expel a Swedish diplomat who was only performing his duties."

Poland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the expulsion of its diplomat as "groundless" and that its decision to expel a diplomat from the Russian Consulate in Poznan is "in accordance with the principle of reciprocity".

The Russian Foreign Ministry labeled the latest move by Berlin, Stockholm and Warsaw as "just unfounded, unfriendly".

Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Russian television in comments quoted by the TASS news agency that they "are a continuation of the very series of actions, actions that the West is taking with regard to our country, which we qualify as interference in internal affairs."

The coordinated move by the three EU member states comes just a day after the bloc's top foreign affairs representative, Josep Borrell, returned from a visit to Moscow where he met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Yet, he revealed in a blog post released on Sunday evening upon his return to Brussels that he had learned about the Russian decision to expel European diplomats on social media.

"The messages sent by Russian authorities during this visit confirmed that Europe and Russia are drifting apart," Borrell wrote.

"It seems that Russia is progressively disconnecting itself from Europe and looking at democratic values as an existential threat," he added.

The visit has been branded a "total disaster" by some European lawmakers who have signed a letter calling for Borrell to step down.

Russian authorities arrested Alexei Navalny upon his return to the country following a five-month convalescence in Germany for a nerve agent attack, which was confirmed by multiple European laboratories.

Navalny directly accuses the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin for the attempted murder. Moscow denies any involvement, argues the EU has failed to provide them with any evidence of poisoning with Novichok and says the attack "was staged" to fuel anti-Russian sentiment.

The Kremlin critic was last week jailed for two years and eight months for violating terms of his probation for a 2014 conviction for money laundering — which Navalny claims was politically motivated — while in Germany.

His legal team had argued he could not register with Russian authorities in person as he was in hospital recuperating and branded the subsequent imprisonment a travesty of justice.

EU member states have collectively denounced the jailing and called for Navalny's immediate release but have yet to agree on the way forward regarding relations with Moscow. Multiple member states have called for more sanctions but none have so far been taken. — Euronews

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