Nearly two hundred Russian diplomats were expelled from European countries this week as a direct expression of government anger over the killing of Ukrainian civilians that emerged after the withdrawal of Moscow’s military forces.
As one of the biggest diplomatic breakdowns in recent years, 206 Russian diplomats and embassy staff have been told by government in Italy, France, Germany and elsewhere since Monday that no more than 100 people are welcome to stay. It has already been thrown out since the start of Russia’s latest invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
This brings the total number of expelled Russian ambassadors and embassy staff to more than 325 and is expected to follow.
In Germany, Foreign Minister Annalena Berbakh said on Monday that 40 Russian embassy staff would be evacuated, but intelligence sources said diplomats were a direct threat to Ukrainians living in Germany.
The evictions were described as an immediate response to the killing of civilians in Pucha, north of Kiev, which the German government described as war crimes. Ukrainian officials say the bodies of 410 civilians have been recovered from cities in the Kiev region when Russian troops withdrew.
“The government has decided today to notify a significant number of individuals affiliated with the Russian Embassy who work in Germany on a daily basis against our independence and the unity of our community,” Berberg said.
Prior to his announcement, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Andreas Michelis summoned Russian Ambassador Sergei Nechev and told him he had five days to pick up his belongings and leave Germany.
German intelligence sources have told the German media that those who pose a “definite threat” to Ukrainian activists in Germany and the approximately 307,000 Ukrainian refugees who have been displaced since the outbreak of war are to be expelled.
Baerbock said he had spoken with Michaelis Nechaev about specific threats. “It simply came to our notice then. That is what we told the Russian ambassador this afternoon, ”he added.
Intelligence sources say there are suspected Russian spies in Germany.
Spain became the latest country to announce the evacuations, saying 25 ambassadors and embassy staff had to leave on Tuesday afternoon.
“We are deeply outraged by the unbearable images of civilians being massacred in Pucha after the withdrawal of the Russian army,” Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albarez said after the weekly cabinet meeting. He said diplomats and staff were a “threat to the country’s interests” and would be expelled immediately.
Italy has previously said that its foreign minister, Luigi de Mayo, will expel 30 diplomats “for national security reasons.” His ministry has summoned Russia’s ambassador to Italy, Sergei Razov, to inform him of the Italian government’s decision, and told him that those on the list were undesirable.
France expelled 35 diplomats on Monday as part of a joint European operation, describing the actions of those individuals as “against our security interests”.
Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabriel Landsberg said on the same day that the expulsion of the Russian ambassador was an expression of Lithuania’s “full solidarity with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.” He said its own ambassador to Russia would soon return to Vilnius.
Slovenia said on Tuesday that 33 Russian ambassadors would be expelled and that Estonia, which shares a border with Russia, would expel 14 Russian diplomats, including seven diplomatic staff. Portugal expels 10
Sweden’s Foreign Ministry has said it wants to deport three Russian diplomats who have been accused of “illegal activities”, while Denmark has said 15 Russian intelligence officials directly accused of spying will be forced to leave within 14 days. The Danish Foreign Ministry has said it will suspend the ambassador because it does not want to sever diplomatic relations with Moscow.
Last week, a large number of Russian ambassadors were expelled from the United States, the Netherlands, Poland, Bulgaria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Ireland and Belgium.
Russia, in turn, has said it will expel a few ambassadors from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, but many more are expected to follow.
On Tuesday, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Khrushchev said the evictions were part of a “pre-coordinated campaign” that would have repercussions and long-term consequences.
“This is a blow to bilateral relations, to the channels of diplomatic discussions,” he said. He also said that Russia would take “retaliatory measures”.
On Monday, Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s former president and deputy chairman of its Security Council, said the expulsions demanded that they punish themselves.
Medvedev said in his telegram that Moscow’s response was “balanced and destructive to bilateral relations. Who was punished? First, themselves.”
He said while the move would save money, countries would go head-to-head to “attack with weapons”.