Sunday 3/7/21

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

EU foreign ministers are set to discuss on 22 February whether to hit Russia with fresh sanctions over the Navalny case.

07 February 2021, Finland, Helsinki: People protest in support of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny at the Senate Square. Photo: Antti Aimo-Koivisto/Lehtikuva/dpa
People protest in support of Alexei Navalny at the Senate Square in Helsinki. Photo: Antti Aimo-Koivisto/dpa.

Germany, Poland and Sweden took tit-for-tat measures against Russia by expelling its diplomats on Monday, after Moscow defended its decision to do the same thing last week, straining relations with the EU and prompting talk of more sanctions.

Germany's Foreign Ministry declared the Russian embassy employee persona non grata, similarly to Poland, which said the move was in response to the "groundless expulsion" of a Polish diplomat in Russia.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said on Twitter that her country's decision was "a clear response to the unacceptable decision to expel a Swedish diplomat who was only preforming his duties."

The Russian Foreign Ministry had expelled the three EU envoys on Friday, claiming they participated in unauthorized protests in support of jailed dissident Alexei Navalny.

Berlin, Stockholm and Warsaw reject the allegations, saying their representatives were at the protests as observers, not participants.

Reports on Russian state TV presented the diplomats as criminals, broadcasting surveillance footage of the protests with the diplomats' faces encircled, together with their full names and functions.

"The Russian side has made it clear that it does not intend to tolerate such a thing," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Interfax agency.

Borrell's unsuccessful trip

The EU was still smarting from the move, especially since news of it broke while the bloc's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, was on an already tense trip to Moscow, unsuccessfully pushing Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for Navalny's release.

Borrell is now facing questions over the wisdom of the trip and how well it served the EU's aims. "My meeting with Minister Lavrov highlighted that Europe and Russia are drifting apart," the EU foreign policy chief wrote in a statement published late Sunday.

Moscow's apparent lack of interest in constructive dialogue "is regrettable, and we will have to draw the consequences," Borrell wrote.

The European Commission stood by the trip on Monday. "The main objective was to deliver firm unequivocal clear messages from the EU," spokesperson Peter Stano told reporters in Brussels.

But another - more senior - spokesperson, Eric Mamer, said commission discussions this week would also perhaps include what "lessons that can be drawn from this meeting in Moscow."

EU foreign ministers are set to discuss on 22 February whether to hit Russia with fresh sanctions over the Navalny case.

EU leaders are also planning to take stock of their shared Russia strategy at a March summit.

Emergency videoconference

Poland, which supports taking a tougher line with Russia, called an emergency videoconference on Monday with the other 26 EU ambassadors, close associates of Navalny and representatives from the United States, Britain, Canada and Ukraine.

The bloc is divided between mainly Baltic states pushing for new restrictive measures, and those more reluctant to do so, though political heavyweights like Germany now seem to be coming round.

A unanimous decision is needed for sanctions.

On 23 January, tens of thousands of people demonstrated across Russia for Navalny's release and against President Vladimir Putin.

Thousands were arrested. The prominent Putin critic was sentenced last week for a probation violation.

Navalny decided to return to his home country in January after seeking treatment in Germany for an attack last August on Russian soil with the nerve agent Novichok, banned as a chemical weapon.

He was detained upon arrival.

However, even after being detained, Navalny was able to take aim at Putin through an online video called "A Palace for Putin," which purports to reveal the Russian president's massive Black Sea mansion.

A survey from the Levada Center, an independent polling group, found that Putin had lost some appeal following the film. Some 17% of the people who saw or knew of the film said their attitude towards the Russian leader had worsened, though the majority - 77% - did not have their image of Putin changed as a result of the video.

Comments