Russia will expel diplomats from Sweden, Poland and Germany over their alleged participation in recent “unauthorized” rallies in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, the Foreign Ministry said Friday.
The expulsions come amid European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell’s visit to Moscow, where he lamented to his counterpart Sergei Lavrov that ties between Europe and Russia had fallen to new lows over Navalny’s poisoning and imprisonment.
The unnamed diplomats, who are accused of attending the Jan. 23 protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg, have been declared personae non gratae and will be required to leave Russia in the near future, the Foreign Ministry said.
Tens of thousands of Russians nationwide took to the streets on Jan. 23 to call for Navalny’s release and to criticize President Vladimir Putin in protests that were not authorized by the government.
“Such actions on their part are unacceptable and do not correspond to their diplomatic status,” the ministry said of the diplomats. It did not specify how many diplomats have been ordered to leave.
Russia “expects that in the future, the diplomatic missions of Sweden, Poland and Germany and their personnel will strictly follow the norms of international law,” the ministry’s statement added.
Both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron condemned the move.
“We consider these expulsions to be unjustified. We believe it is yet another aspect that can be observed right now of Russia being quite far from the rule of law,” Merkel said.
After a video call between the pair, Macron added: “With regards to the Navalny affair, I condemn with the greatest firmness from start to finish what has happened, from his poisoning… to today the expulsion of German, Polish and Swedish diplomats decided by Russia.”
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said earlier that the move would “not go unanswered.”
Russia’s jailing of Navalny and rough crackdown on peaceful demonstrators sparked outcry from EU members this week, with the bloc weighing its options for new sanctions on Moscow in response. Navalny was sentenced to nearly three years in a prison camp on Tuesday over an alleged probation violation while he was recovering from a near-fatal poisoning in Germany.
AFP contributed reporting.