Moscow has kicked out diplomats from France, Italy and Spain in retaliation for the expulsion of Russian diplomats from European countries as part of a joint action against Russia’s campaign in Ukraine.
Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that it was expelling 34 “employees of French diplomatic missions” in Russia and gave them two weeks to leave the country.
Moscow made the announcement after summoning France’s ambassador to Russia, Pierre Levy, and telling him that the expulsion of 41 employees of Russian diplomatic missions was a “provocative and unfounded decision”, the statement said.
The ministry later said that 27 employees of the Spanish embassy in Moscow and the Spanish Consulate General in Saint Petersburg “have been declared persona non grata” and will have seven days to leave Russia.
The ministry told Spanish ambassador Marcos Gomez Martinez that the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Madrid “would have a negative impact on Russian-Spanish relations”.
In turn, Spain criticised Russia for the move.
“The Russian authorities justify this decision on the basis of reciprocity for the expulsion of 27 Russian embassy officials in April. But that expulsion was based on justified security reasons, which are not present in this case,” a foreign ministry statement said.
‘A hostile act’
While there was no official statement, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova confirmed to Russian news agencies that 24 Italian diplomats had also been expelled.
The Italian foreign ministry also confirmed the expulsion of “24 members of Italy’s diplomatic and consular representatives and of the Italian Trade Agency office” in Russia.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi condemned as a “hostile act” Russia’s decision, but said diplomatic channels must remain open.
“This is clearly a hostile act; it’s also a reaction to our expulsions,” he told a press conference as news of the expulsions emerged.
He added: “The most important thing is that it must not in any way lead to a reduction of diplomatic channels because it’s through those channels that, if possible, peace [in Ukraine] will be achieved. And that is certainly what we want.”
Meanwhile, the foreign ministry in Paris said France “strongly condemns” the expulsion of its diplomats by Russia, adding that this step from Moscow had “no legitimate basis”.
It said the work of French diplomats in Russia “takes place fully within the framework of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic and consular relations” – whereas Paris expelled Russian staff in April on suspicion of being spies.
Separately, municipal lawmakers in Moscow on Wednesday backed a decision to name a previously unnamed area in front of the US embassy in Moscow “Donbas Defenders Square”.
The name refers to a majority Russian-speaking region in eastern Ukraine that Russia claims it is liberating as part of its military campaign.
In February 2018, a street outside the Russian embassy in Washington was named after Boris Nemtsov, an opposition politician who was shot dead outside the Kremlin in 2015.
Russian President Vladimir Putin in late February sent troops into Ukraine, saying the campaign aimed to stop the “genocide” of Russian speakers in the country.
In response, Moscow has faced a barrage of international sanctions and growing isolation from the global community as relations with the West deteriorate to Cold War levels.