It goes without saying that Russia-EU relations have hit their lowest state in years over the Alexei Navalny affair. It began months ago with the EU slapping targeted sanctions on top Russian intelligence officials believed behind the alleged poisoning of Navalny in August. Russia later retaliated with its own tit-tor-tat travel restrictions on certain diplomatic officials - specifically from the German, Swedish and French embassies - in December.
Now with pressure mounting given this week's events which saw a Moscow court order Navalny to over 2.5 years in prison, for which the EU is mulling a new round of sanctions, the Kremlin his hitting back hard. Russia has now formally expelled select Western diplomats from the country for attending 'unauthorized' rallies in support of Navalny.
This after the Kremlin earlier alleged a hidden 'foreign hand' behind the protests which in some cases have involved fierce clashes with riot police. The demonstrations have gripped international headlines for the post two weekends, and the US Embassy in Moscow has appeared to be vocally supportive.
This latest move to expel diplomats from Sweden, Poland, and Germany is perhaps the biggest escalation yet. According to TASS:
Russia has declared a Swedish, a Polish and a German diplomat personae non gratae because of their participation in the January 23 unauthorized rallies in Moscow and St. Petersburg, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Friday.
The ministry cited the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of April 18, 1961 to give legal authoritity to its expelling "diplomats who took part in unauthorized rallies" who have been declared personae non grata. They have been told to leave Russia as soon as possible, according to the order.
The ministry slammed "such actions on their part" as "unacceptable" which "do not correspond to their diplomatic status."
TASS writes further:
According to the ministry, Sweden’s, Poland’s and Germany’s ambassadors were summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday over these incidents. "The Russian side expects that Sweden’s, Poland’s and Germany’s diplomatic missions and their personnel will strictly abide by international law," the ministry stressed.
Russia's foreign ministry said that "such actions on their part are unacceptable and do not correspond to their diplomatic status."https://t.co/2ZwmFbcWWx— DW News (@dwnews) February 5, 2021
Awkwardly this is all happening on the same day that EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell made a controversial trip to Russia to meet with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow. The trip has reportedly angered Navalny supporters.
Despite Borrell previously condemning Navalny's arrest and court proceedings, he still made the trip with no pre-conditions. However, the EU is now said to be mulling "tougher sanctions" unless Navalny is released from detention immediately - something which Joe Biden also called for in a Thursday speech.