Feb 8, 2021 - World

Germany, Sweden and Poland expel Russian diplomats as Navalny tensions escalate

Alexei Navalny appears in court wearing a black hoodie

Alexei Navalny appears in court in Moscow on Feb. 5. Photo: Moscow Court Press Service/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Germany, Sweden and Poland each expelled a member of Russian Embassy staff on Monday in retaliation for the Kremlin's expulsion of their own diplomats, which came after they were accused of attending "unlawful" rallies in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Why it matters: The tit-for-tat move represents an escalation in tensions between Russia and Europe. The EU's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, who was meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov when the expulsion of EU diplomats was announced last week, has called the Navalny case "a low point in our relations.”

The big picture: Navalny, arguably the best-known critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has inspired thousands to join mass protests in major cities across Russia after he was ordered to serve more than two years in prison for violating parole while he recovered in Germany from an assassination attempt.

  • Navalny has accused Putin himself of ordering his attempted murder with the nerve agent Novichok, a calling card of the Russian security services.
  • European laboratories have independently confirmed that Novichok was used against Navalny. Lavrov has called the EU an "unreliable partner" and accused them of lying about Navalny's poisoning.

What they're saying: The German Foreign Office described Russia's ousting of several EU diplomats, including one of their own stationed in Moscow, as "in no way justified."

  • Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde tweeted: "We have informed the Russian Ambassador that a person from the Russian embassy is asked to leave Sweden. This is a clear response to the unacceptable decision to expel a Swedish diplomat who was only performing his duties."
  • The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted: "In response to the groundless expulsion of the Polish diplomat by Russia, the Polish MFA has decided today in accordance with the principle of reciprocity and in coordination with Germany and Sweden to consider the Russian diplomat working at the Russian Consulate General in Poznań as a persona non grata."
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