After the expulsion from Russia of diplomats from Germany, Sweden and Poland for participating in demonstrations in support of Alexei Navalni, the three European countries announced on Monday (8) that they would do the same with representatives from Moscow .
The announcement by each country’s foreign ministry, which declared Russian diplomats “persona non gratae”, was made almost simultaneously.
Moscow’s reaction came immediately. “This decision is unfounded and hostile,” said Russian Chancellery spokeswoman Maria Zajarova, once again denouncing Western interference in the country’s internal affairs.
In announcing the expulsion of European diplomats on Friday (5), Russia said it took part in protests in support of Putin’s opponent Alexei Navalni on January 23, in Moscow and St. Petersburg, which he considered actions “unacceptable and incompatible with. diplomatic status “.
According to a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, they were arrested “in flagrante delicto”. The total number of people who will have to leave the country has not been informed.
Under Russian law, public acts must be authorized by the government. As demonstrations in support of Navalni did not receive this authorization, they were considered illegal by the courts.
The Russians announced the deportations after European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called for Navalni’s immediate release during a press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Lavrov did not respond directly to the request, but complained that the EU was an unreliable partner.
The expulsions of Europeans were deemed unacceptable by Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde, for whom the expelled Swedish diplomat “was only fulfilling his obligations”.
Sweden confirmed on Friday that one of its diplomats observed a protest in St. Petersburg as part of his duties, but rejected any active participation.
The German Foreign Ministry also said its expelled representative was seeking “to legally investigate the development of the situation in that country.” The Polish Chancellery ruled Moscow’s decision unjustified.
Germany had already promised consequences on Friday if the expulsion was not reviewed. “Russia’s decision to expel several European diplomats, including an official from the embassy in Moscow, is by no means justified and harms relations with Europe,” said Heiko Maas, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the country.
A wave of protests began in Russia on January 23 against the arrest of Navalni, a critic of the government of Vladimir Putin. Even in the midst of a harsh winter, there were acts in a hundred towns and thousands of people were arrested.
Navalni was poisoned in August 2020 and directly accused Putin of the assassination attempt. He was treated in Berlin, where doctors claimed to have found the famous Russian secret service poison Novichok (novice) in his body.
Next, Navalni released the recording of a prank call he gave to one of the FSB (Federal Security Service, successor to the KGB) agents named as the perpetrators of the attack – in him, the The spy thinks he’s talking to a superior and admits to putting poison in his activist’s underwear in the hotel room.
The Kremlin denies any involvement, and Putin joked at the end of the year that if Russia had wanted to kill Navalni, it would have done so.
Navalni was arrested upon his return to Russia on January 17. He is formally accused of violating the terms of his probation – he was sentenced to jail for commuted fraud in 2014, in an action he describes as judicial harassment. Although theoretically independent, Russian justice is generally aligned with the Kremlin.
Last Tuesday (2), the activist was sentenced to another two years and eight months in prison, in a penal colony.
On Friday, he returned to court for another trial, this time accused of slandering a World War II veteran who participated in a video supporting Putin. The next hearing is scheduled for the 12.
Blogger and lawyer, Navalni appeared in the public arena during protests against Putin in 2012. The following year he ran for mayor in Moscow and won a whopping 27% of the vote.
But it was in 2017 that he appeared to the world, commanding via the Internet the call for a day of protests that united thousands of people in the streets of Russia. Due to legal proceedings, he was not allowed to appear against Putin in 2018.
He then moved on to a tactic within politics: to favor any candidacy at the regional level contrary to United Russia, the regime’s party.
He achieved significant symbolic successes in local elections of 2019 and 2020, and his return to Russia was seen as preparation for the shock of the parliamentary elections in September. Now, with him in prison, his wife, Iulia Navalnaia, is expected to gain prominence against Putin.