Russia expelled three European diplomats from Germany, Poland and Sweden for their active support for Alexei Navalny.
According to EU Observer, citing sources in the EU, Moscow has timed the expulsion of diplomats to the time of the press conference by the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, who held a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Feb. 5.
At the very beginning of the meeting, Borrell told Lavrov that relations between the European Union and Russia were going through truly difficult times after the Navalny poisoning.
"Our relations are obviously extremely tense now, and the crisis with Navalny is their the lowest point," Borrell stressed.
According to EU Observer, the expelled diplomats allegedly took part in protests in defense of Navalny.
The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed that diplomats from Germany, Poland and Sweden were declared persona non grata for their participation in unauthorized actions of protests. They will leave Russian in the nearest future.
In connection with the incident, the Ambassador of Sweden, the Charge d'Affaires of Poland and the envoy of the German Embassy were summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. The Foreign Ministry expects that foreign diplomats in Russia will follow the norms of international law strictly afterwards.
Having learned this, EU High Representative Josep Borrell condemned the decision to expel the European diplomats and urged Russia to revise it.
"During the meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov, the High Representative learned that three European diplomats would be expelled from Russia. He strongly condemned the decision and rejected accusations that they were involved in activities incompatible with their status as foreign diplomats. The decision should be revised," representative of EU's lead spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and security policy Peter Stano said.
Earlier, an unnamed source in Moscow told RIA Novosti that the Swedish diplomat took part in a protest action on Nevsky Prospekt in St. Petersburg on January 23. The Swedish embassy said that the employee only watched the demonstration.
"The Swedish Foreign Ministry strongly refutes the claims that the Swedish diplomat took part in the demonstrations ... The Swedish diplomat observed the demonstration in St. Petersburg, which is a standard diplomatic procedure," the embassy said, adding that monitoring of political events in the country was part of responsibilities of diplomats in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
The Navalny trial also attracted the attention of a record number of diplomats: representatives of the European Union, embassies of Germany, Great Britain, Czech Republic, Austria, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Latvia, Poland and other European diplomatic missions attended the court hearings. In total, 14 representatives of foreign embassies came to support Navalny during the trial on the Yves Rocher case. The Russian Foreign Ministry then called it an attempt to put pressure on the court.
This is the second time in 2021, when Russia expels foreign diplomats. On January 18, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation declared two employees of the Dutch Embassy persona non grata. They were told to leave the country within two weeks. The Russian Foreign Ministry explained that Moscow made the decision based on the principle of reciprocity, after two Russian diplomats had been declared persona non grata.