The meager hopes raised by the visit to Moscow of the High Representative of the European Union (EU) for Foreign Affairs, from February 4 to 6, were showered in the most singular and brutal way on Friday. The Russian side chose precisely that day to announce the expulsion of three European diplomats, giving the maneuver an ambush. She even let Josep Borrell hold a press conference alongside Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov without informing him of this decision, announced shortly after by a press release.
The expulsion of these three diplomats – a German, a Pole and a Swede – was decided because of their « participation » to illegal demonstrations, said Russian diplomacy, which judges these facts “Unacceptable and incompatible with their diplomatic status”. The three were reportedly present on January 23 in Moscow or Saint Petersburg, where two of them are based, in rallies in support of the imprisoned opponent Alexei Navalny. Nothing has been said about how they were identified.
“An unjustified expulsion”
The three capitals affected by these expulsions, supported by other European countries, immediately denounced them. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who held a joint press conference with Emmanuel Macron, lambasted “Unjustified eviction”, showing, according to her, “An additional facet of what is currently happening in Russia and which has little to do with the rule of law”. The French president told himself “Fully online” with this position.
Both Berlin and Stockholm recalled that the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations authorized diplomats to “Obtain information by legal means on the development of the situation on the ground”.
In Brussels, diplomatic sources believe that this episode, which follows the imprisonment of Mr. Navalny and the repression of the protest, raises the question of new sanctions. The hypothesis has not yet been officially put on the table, but such measures would be in addition to those already taken against senior Russian officials in the wake of the poisoning of the opponent. The Kremlin retaliated by sanctioning French, German and Swedish officials, as if to better recall the insignificance in its eyes of the European institutions.
In a meeting with reporters, Mr Borrell called the deportation “Disturbing” and asked that she be “Reconsidered” by Moscow. According to those around him, Lavrov explained to him that the decision should have been notified only on Monday. But the ambassadors of the three countries were indeed summoned Friday. Later, Mr. Borrell persevered in defending the need for continued dialogue with Moscow. In Brussels, diplomatic sources recalled that several states were opposed to the very idea of this visit.
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