Deteriorating relations between Moscow and Europe continue to spiral at a moment just a tiny handful of leaders, most especially Emmanuel Macron of France, are pushing for more serious engagement focused on Ukraine de-escalation negotiations. Both the Russian and Ukrainian sides have at the start of this week confirmed that ceasefire talks are not occurring 'in any form'.
On Wednesday a new wave of European diplomats have been expelled from Russia in retaliation for Europe expelling Russian officials as part of continuing punitive measures related to the invasion of Ukraine. Russia's Foreign Ministry announced the fresh tit-for-tat move to boot 34 "employees of French diplomatic missions" in Russia. They've been given two weeks to exit the country.
Previously France had expelled 41 Russian staff from the country's diplomatic missions, which the Kremlin has protested as a "provocative and unfounded decision."
And a further 27 officials of of the Spanish embassy in Moscow and the Spanish Consulate General in St. Petersburg "have been declared persona non grata" - according to the AFP. The Spanish employees have been given only a week to leave.
Moscow is also preparing to announce moves against Italian diplomats as well. Along with expelling Russians from Italy, the government has been among the first this week to call for Finland and Sweden's swift admissions into NATO.
"While there was no official statement, the Foreign Ministry's spokeswoman Maria Zakharova confirmed to Russian news agencies that 24 Italian diplomats had also been expelled," the AFP is reporting. This brings the total number of European diplomats expelled to a whopping 85.
Meanwhile, Paris has slammed the latest wave of retaliatory measures by Moscow as having "no legitimate basis" - and Italy is condemning the "hostile act" aimed at its diplomats.
Since the Feb.24 invasion, there's been wave after wave of US-EU sanctions slapped on top Russian leaders and its key institutions, most especially banking - also as pledges of increased military support to Kiev from the Western powers have ratcheted greatly.
This has led many observers to conclude Ukraine has reached the level of full blown proxy war between Russia and NATO. Increasingly there looks to be no 'off ramps' at this time, given lack of any serious dialogue, and as even diplomatic relations continue to break down between the West and Russia. Finland and Sweden's simultaneous application bids to join NATO is something also adding fuel to the fire.