ROME | After France and Germany on Monday, Italy, Spain and Slovenia in turn expelled Russian diplomats en masse on Tuesday, marking a further deterioration in relations with Moscow after the discovery of massacres attributed to Russian forces near Kyiv.
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The head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell for his part announced on Tuesday that he had decided to declare “persona non grata” several members of the Russian representation to the EU because of “activities contrary” to their status as diplomats, without specifying either the number or the date of their expulsion.
Italy has decided to expel 30 Russian diplomats for “national security” reasons. “This decision was taken in agreement with other European and Atlantic partners”, explained Prime Minister Mario Draghi, specifying that Italy supported “with conviction” the new sanctions presented Tuesday by the European Commission.
Westerners expressed their outrage this weekend after the discovery of dozens of bodies wearing civilian clothes in Boutcha, northwest of Kyiv, following the withdrawal of the Russians.
For its part, Russia firmly rejected its involvement, denouncing a Ukrainian “staging” aimed, according to Moscow, at denigrating the image of Russian soldiers.
In the wake of reports of Boutcha’s deaths, Lithuania announced the expulsion of the Russian ambassador “in response to Russia’s military aggression against sovereign Ukraine and the atrocities committed by the Russian armed forces” .
Germany announced the same day that it was expelling “a high number” of Russian diplomats stationed in Berlin, according to Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. According to information from AFP, their number would amount to 40.
Russian reprisals in sight
A few minutes later, France announced the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats “whose activities are contrary to (its) interests”, according to a source close to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
And on Tuesday morning, Denmark also decided to expel 15 Russian diplomats who “carried out espionage activities on Danish soil”, said Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod.
Sweden also announced in the middle of the day the expulsion of three Russian diplomats, followed in the process by Spain which decided to expel “immediately” around 25 Russian diplomats who represented a “threat to the interests” of the country.
At the end of the afternoon, Slovenia expelled 33 and Estonia 14, making a total of nearly 200 Russian diplomats expelled from Europe in 48 hours.
Several European states had already taken similar measures before.
On March 29, Belgium announced the expulsion within 15 days of 21 people working for the Russian embassy and consulate, suspected of involvement “in operations of espionage and influence threatening national security”.
The same day, the Netherlands had decided to expel 17 people “accredited as diplomats to Russian representations in the Netherlands” but “secretly active as intelligence officers”.
On March 23, Poland announced, through its Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski, the expulsion of 45 “Russian spies posing as diplomats”.
The Kremlin for its part denounced the European “lack of foresight” on Tuesday: “We regret it. The reduction of the possibilities of communicating at the diplomatic level in these difficult conditions” denotes a “lack of foresight which will further complicate” relations between Russia and the EU, castigated the spokesman of the Kremlin, Dmitry Peskov.
“And that will inevitably lead to retaliatory measures,” he added.