Germany, Poland, Sweden expel Russian diplomats in reciprocity

Moscow’s expulsion of three diplomats from EU countries last week prompts a coordinated tit-for-tat response from Germany, Poland and Sweden.

A general view shows the Russian embassy in Berlin [File: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters]

Germany, Poland and Sweden have expelled an employee of Russia’s embassy in each country, in a coordinated tit-for-tat response to Moscow’s expulsion last week of a German, a Polish and a Swedish diplomat.

The German foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday that Russia’s decision to expel diplomats from European Union countries, including one at the German embassy, “was not justified in any way”.

“The Foreign Office today declared ‘persona non grata’ an employee of the Russian embassy in Berlin,” the ministry said in a statement.

Russia said the diplomats had participated in a demonstration in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny, but Germany, as well as Poland and Sweden, disputed this.

“The German diplomat was merely carrying out his task of reporting on developments on the spot in a legal fashion,” the statement read.

Also on Monday, Poland’s foreign ministry said in a tweet that it had asked a worker at the Russian consulate in the western city of Poznan to leave.

“The Foreign Ministry took the decision today in accordance with the principle of reciprocity and in coordination with Germany and Sweden to recognise an employee of the Consulate General of Russia in Poznan as persona non grata,” the ministry said.

Sweden has also informed Russia that a member of staff from the Russian embassy will be asked to leave Sweden.

“This is a clear response to the unacceptable decision to expel a Swedish diplomat who was only performing his duties,” Foreign Minister Ann Linde tweeted on Monday.

‘Drifting apart’

Russia’s foreign ministry responded to Monday’s expulsions, saying they were “unjustified and unfriendly”, according to the Interfax news agency.

It announced its expulsions last week while the EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell was meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Borrell said he learned about the move on social media.

“The messages sent by Russian authorities during this visit confirmed that Europe and Russia are drifting apart,” Borrell wrote in a blog on his return to Brussels.

“It seems that Russia is progressively disconnecting itself from Europe and looking at democratic values as an existential threat.”

He said the trip left him “with deep concerns over the perspectives of development of Russian society and Russia’s geostrategic choices,” and the expulsions, which he requested be dropped, “indicate that the Russian authorities did not want to seize this opportunity to have a more constructive dialogue”.

Ties between Russia and the EU have worsened over Navalny’s arrest and jailing in recent weeks, which have sparked nationwide opposition protests.

Navalny was arrested in Moscow upon his return on January 17 from Germany, where he had received treatment after an alleged poisoning in Russia.

Russian authorities said he had violated probation from a suspended sentence on a 2014 money laundering offence, a case Navalny says is “politically motivated”.

A Moscow court on Tuesday sentenced Navalny to two years and eight months in prison for violating his parole.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies