A total of 34 French diplomats are due to leave Russia within two weeks, while 27 Spanish diplomats – “Aides of the Spanish Embassy in Moscow and the Spanish Consulate General in St. Petersburg” (North-West) – have seven days to leave the country, Russian Diplomacy said.
Russia also decided to expel 24 Italian diplomats in retaliation, Russian diplomacy spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Russian news agencies, before the Italian ambassador arrived at the Foreign Ministry for his summons.
France in April announced the expulsion of 41 Russian diplomats who, according to it, engaged in espionage activities under the guise of their embassy, specifying that the sanctions were part of “a European approach”.
Russia on Wednesday “strongly protested” against the “provocative and baseless decision of French officials” to expel Russian diplomats, a statement from Russian diplomacy said, adding that the measure would “construct Russian-French relations as well as constructive bilateral seriously harming cooperation”.
The French Foreign Ministry condemned the Russian response, noting that Paris had expelled “several dozen Russian agents” suspected of being spies. “The work of the diplomats and the staff of our embassy in Russia, on the other hand, falls entirely within the framework of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic and Consular Relations”, underlined Quai d’Orsay.
“The decision of the Russian authorities is not based on any legitimate grounds,” he condemned.
Several other European countries, such as Germany, Italy, Spain, Slovenia, Austria, Poland, Greece or Croatia, have largely expelled Russian diplomats since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February. In some cases, these evictions have been accompanied by charges of espionage.
Moscow has promised to respond to each of these measures and dozens of Western diplomats have already been expelled from Russia.
Italy on Wednesday called Moscow’s expulsion of European diplomats a “hostile act” but called on Russia not to break diplomatic channels.
“It is a hostile act but we should completely avoid breaking diplomatic ties. It should not break diplomatic channels because if we achieve peace, we will achieve it through these diplomatic channels,” he said. Mario Draghi during a press conference in Rome.
According to Russian media, the Swedish ambassador was also summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday.
In this context of unprecedented tensions between Russians and Westerners, elected municipal officials in Moscow on Wednesday proposed to name an area – hitherto unknown – “Donbass Defenders Square” located in front of the United States embassy in the Russian capital.
In 2018, a section of the avenue alongside the Russian Embassy in Washington was officially named “Boris Nemtsov Plaza”, in honor of the 2015 assassination of a Russian rival in Moscow.
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