Matt Atlas

Russia Expels European Diplomats Over Navalny Protests

Russia announced the expulsion of three diplomats from Sweden, Poland, and Germany for allegedly participating in illegal actions in Moscow and St. Petersburg. This move was firmly rejected by all three countries and the head of EU diplomacy Josep Borrell, who is currently in Russia. Moscow describes unauthorized protests against the imprisonment of opposition politician Alexei Navalny, during which police have detained more than 10,000 people.

“Diplomats participating in illegal actions have been declared undesirable under the Vienna Convention. They are ordered to leave Russian territory as soon as possible, “said the ministry.

The expulsion of diplomats from EU countries was first reported by the EUObserver server, referring to an EU source. According to him, this happened at the time of today’s press conference Borrell and the head of Russian diplomacy Sergei Lavrov.

According to his spokesman Peter Stan, Borrell “strongly condemned” Moscow’s move, rejecting claims that expelled diplomats engaged in activities incompatible with their status. He called on the Russian side to reconsider its decision.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the expulsion of diplomats unjustifiable. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the move would only worsen Russia’s relations with Europe, and if Moscow did not reconsider, a response would follow.

The Polish Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador over the incident and called on Moscow to back down from the “wrong decision.” Otherwise, Warsaw will take “appropriate action.”

The Swedish Foreign Ministry called Moscow’s move “completely unfounded.” “We deny Russia’s claim that the diplomat took part in the demonstration. Monitoring political events in the host country is a natural part of the essential functions of a diplomat, “the statement said.

“Russia considers the European Union to be an unreliable partner,” Lavrov said at a joint news conference with Borrell, mentioning anti-Russian sanctions. According to him, Brussels behaves more and more like Washington and is reaching for unilaterally announced restrictions. “Certainly, the main problem we are all facing is the lack of normalcy in relations between Russia and the EU, between the two largest players in the Eurasian space. Of course, it is an unhealthy situation that does not benefit anyone, “said Borrell’s host.

In Moscow, Borrell recalled calls for the release of Navalny and for an investigation into his August poisoning, the order of which Russia denies. So far, no EU state has submitted a proposal to impose new sanctions on Russia for Naval imprisonment, Borrell said, adding that the heads of state and government of the bloc countries will discuss relations with Russia next month. Despite existing differences, Borrell called for cooperation in areas where agreements can be made. According to him, building a wall of silence is not a way out of a situation where relations between Russia and the EU have fallen to the “lowest point.”

Moscow describes criticism of President Vladimir Putin’s primary opponent’s imprisonment as interfering in its internal affairs. The Kremlin told Brussels before Borrell’s visit that conditioning the future of EU-Russia relations with the fate of Navalny would be “stupid.”

The Borrell mission ends the period of frozen diplomatic contacts at the EU level, which, according to AFP, has lasted since 2017. Relations cooled sharply after Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian Crimean peninsula and the outbreak of armed conflict with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in spring 2014. sanctions against specific sectors of the Russian economy and Moscow responded with a ban on Western food imports.

Sanctions – this time aimed at the Russian president’s immediate surroundings – also followed Navalny’s poisoning in August, from which the opposition recovered in Germany. According to Western laboratories and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, he was poisoned with a substance from a group of novices, a substance similar to the one that had previously been poisoned in Salisbury, UK, by former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal. He attributes the poisoning to the Kremlin and the FSB secret service, which Moscow denies. He also denies that Navalny was poisoned at all.