Pressure mounts on Russia as Europe begins cutting diplomatic cord

April 5, 2022 - 19:14

TEHRAN— As the situation in Ukraine is not going as Putin expected, the European countries have tightened the rope on Russia by expelling Russian diplomats, calling them “undesirable” foreign agents.

Four European Union countries have expelled more than 40 Russian diplomats suspected of espionage in a coordinated action, while some other countries have moved to suspend diplomatic ties with Moscow.

Expulsion orders were issued on March 29 by Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic for a total of 43 embassy personnel.

Similar moves have been taken by other EU states, including Poland, over the last two weeks.

The expulsions, according to Belgian Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmes, were "connected to our national security."

Ms. Wilmes told parliament that 21 members of staff at the Russian embassy in Brussels and the consulate in Antwerp had been requested to leave the country, with two weeks to do so.

She went on to say that the move was done in collaboration with Belgium's neighbor, the Netherlands, whose foreign ministry announced the expulsion of 17 Russian diplomats it deemed to be "secretly active" as intelligence officials.

Micheal Martin, Ireland's Taoiseach (Prime Minister), told lawmakers that his government has expelled four Russian diplomats after obtaining security recommendations from the country's intelligence officers.

According to Martin, the diplomats were requested to leave the country "because their activities are not in compliance with international standards of diplomatic behavior."

The Russian embassy in Dublin condemned the "baseless decision," saying it will "further damage Russian-Irish relations."

Meanwhile, a Czech official told AFP that the diplomat who was ejected from Prague was Russia's deputy ambassador.

"We are diminishing the Russian intelligence presence in the EU together with our Allies," the Czech foreign ministry tweeted.

Poland removed 45 authorized diplomats last Wednesday for suspected espionage in the country.

On Twitter, Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski stated that Polish intelligence officials were "dismantling the Russian special services network in our country."

Earlier this month, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia fired a total of 20 Russian embassy employees for conduct "contrary to their diplomatic position."

Italy expelled 30 Russian diplomats on Tuesday due to security concerns, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said, while Russia announced it will retaliate.

On Tuesday, Italy summoned Russia's envoy to the foreign ministry to inform him that the diplomats were being removed.

"The step is in agreement with other European and Atlantic allies and is required for reasons related to our national security and in the light of the current situation produced by the Russian Federation's unlawful aggression against Ukraine," Di Maio said in a statement.

Russia will respond appropriately, according to TASS news agency, citing Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

Germany declared 40 Russian diplomats "undesirable," and France announced it will deport 35 Russian diplomats because their acts were "against our security interests."

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock described the move as a reaction to the Kremlin's "unbelievable savagery" in Ukraine.

The diplomats who were expelled from Germany were working "against our freedom, against the fabric of our community," according to Baerbock. "This will not be tolerated any longer."

According to Baerbock, Berlin's decision was relayed to Russian Ambassador Sergei Nethayev after he was summoned to the Foreign Ministry. The envoys who are affected have five days to leave Germany.

According to the French Foreign Ministry, the expulsions from France are part of a European response to the massacres in Bucha, where dozens of dead were discovered in mass graves or littering the streets over the weekend.

The Kremlin has refuted Western claims that Russian forces were to blame.

Similarly, Sweden's foreign minister has announced that it will expel three Russian diplomats for violating international standards, making it the latest European country to do so.

According to Ann Linde, the three individuals' employment in Sweden was "not in compliance with the Vienna Convention," referring to the international convention governing diplomatic relations between sovereign states.

But EU’s pressure is not limited to diplomatic pressure. They are seeking to cut Russia off at the source by persuading smaller countries to seek alternatives other than Russia to purchase gas. 

The Lithuanian defense minister announced on Sunday that it has sought to buy gas from other countries, declaring its satiety from Russian gas. 

According to Germany's foreign minister, Berlin and its European allies would look into methods to reduce Moldova's reliance on Russia, the neighbor on whom Europe's poorest country depends for energy supply.

"Together with our Moldovan partners, we aim to analyze how we can help reduce Moldova's economic dependence on Russia... and with a view to energy demands, as well as to build the country's resilience," Baerbock said at a donor conference in Berlin.

Russia has reacted angrily to allegations that its soldiers committed war crimes in Ukraine, dismissing such claims as fabricated propaganda concocted by Ukrainian special forces to discredit Moscow.

Since Russian troops retreated from towns and villages near Kyiv, Ukrainian troops have started displaying journalists the bodies of what they say are civilians slain by Moscow's forces.

“These are fakes that matured in the cynical imagination of Ukrainian propaganda,” Dmitry Medvedev, who served as president from 2008 to 2012 and is now deputy secretary of Russia’s Security Council, said on Telegram.

Conversely, Russia's Defense Ministry stated that it had information that the 72nd Ukrainian Main Center for Psychological Operations had assisted in the staging of such propaganda in a village 23 kilometers (14 miles) northwest of Kyiv, as well as Sumy, Konotop, and other locations.

"Soldiers from the 72nd Ukrainian Main Center for Psychological Operations conducted another staged filming of civilians supposedly murdered by Russian armed troops," the ministry stated. It didn't go into any greater information.

Various dimensions of the tragic incident at Bucha are under investigation, with both sides providing multitudes of evidence. 

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