Germany, Sweden and Poland struck back on Monday by expelling Russian diplomats in retaliation for a similar move targeting diplomats accused of demonstrating in favor of the opponent Alexei Navalny.
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Warsaw, Berlin and Stockholm will each expel a Russian diplomat posted to their country, the three governments announced almost simultaneously.
These expulsions are “unfounded, unfriendly and are a continuation of the very series of actions that the West is leading towards our country and that we qualify as interference in our internal affairs”, reacted a door -speak of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova.
Russia announced on Friday that it was expelling European diplomats for having participated in demonstrations in favor of the jailed opponent.
” In the act ”
The presence of diplomats at “illegal” gatherings on January 23 in support of Mr. Navalny in Saint Petersburg and Moscow is “unacceptable and incompatible with their status”, the Russian authorities had estimated to justify these expulsions. They were caught “in the act”, according to the spokesperson for the ministry.
These expulsions were deemed “unacceptable” by the Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ann Linde, for whom the expelled Swedish diplomat “was only performing his duties”.
Sweden had confirmed Friday that one of its diplomats had “observed” a demonstration in Saint Petersburg as part of his duties but refuted any active participation.
The expelled German diplomat was only seeking “to learn by legal means on the development of the situation on the ground”, underlines for its part the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Russia had announced Friday to expel European diplomats, a few hours after talks between the head of Russian diplomacy Sergei Lavrov and Josep Borrell. A snub for the head of European diplomacy.
The EU could thus decide on new sanctions against Moscow, even if they are difficult to implement.
“It is certain that our relations are severely strained and the Navalny affair is a lower one”, observed Josep Borrell, facing Mr. Lavrov, reiterating his call for the release of the opponent and the “launch of an investigation impartial regarding his poisoning ”.
“Very aggressive” words
The “unjustified” expulsion of diplomats shows “an additional facet of what is currently happening in Russia and which has little to do with the rule of law”, had in return lambasted German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who however confirmed her commitment in the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project connecting Russia and Germany.
US President Joe Biden has also strongly criticized Russia, in particular for his treatment of Alexei Navalny, remarks described as “very aggressive” by the Kremlin.
Sworn enemy of the current Russian power, the 44-year-old opponent was sentenced on Tuesday to two years and eight months in prison for violating a judicial check while he was recovering in Germany after poisoning in Siberia.
He accuses the authorities of wanting to silence him. This summer, he survived this poisoning for which he holds President Vladimir Putin responsible. The EU has adopted sanctions against Russian officials in the face of Moscow’s refusal to investigate.
The arrest of the opponent upon his return from convalescence sparked protests across the country.
Many NGOs, Russian media and Western countries denounced the brutal repression that followed and led to some 10,000 arrests interspersed with police violence.
The opponent was back in court on Friday, accused of defaming a World War II veteran who defended in a campaign clip last summer a constitutional reform that strengthened Mr. Putin’s powers.
Mr. Navalny, who risks a heavy fine or even a prison sentence, denounces a political accusation.
In addition to this file, the opponent is targeted by an investigation for fraud, an offense punishable by ten years in prison.