Russia to expel German, Swedish and Polish diplomats accused of taking part in Navalny protests

Foreign ministry condemns involvement of officials as 'unacceptable and inappropriate'

Peter Stubley
Friday 05 February 2021 17:16
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Video: Hundreds arrested at protests in support of Alexei Navalny

Russia has expelled diplomats from Sweden, Poland and Germany for taking part in a rally in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The foreign ministry said in a statement that their attendance at the 'unlawful' protests on 23 January were 'unacceptable and inappropriate'.

They have been declared 'persona non grata' and are required to leave Russia "in the nearest future," the ministry added.

German chancellor Angela Merkel said the expulsions were unjustified and "another facet of the things that can be seen in Russia at the moment that are pretty far from the rule of law."

Sweden rejected the allegation that its diplomat took part in the demonstration and "reserves the right to take appropriate measures in response," according to foreign ministry spokesperson Mats Samuelsson.

The announcement followed a meeting between Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and the European Union's top diplomat Josep Borrell in Moscow on Friday.

"Certainly, our relations are under a severe strain, and the Navalny case is a low point in our relations," said Mr Borrell. "I have conveyed to Minister Lavrov our deep concern and our appeal for his release and for the launch of an investigation over his poisoning.

"Over the last years our relationship has been marked by fundamental differences and a lack of trust."

Mr Navalny, 44, was detained last month after returning to Russia following his recovery from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have denied the allegation.

His arrest triggered massive protests across Russia. Tens of thousands of people have marched in the streets to demand his release and protesters chanted slogans against president Vladimir Putin.

A Moscow court later ordered Mr Navalny to serve two years and eight months in prison for violating the terms of his suspended sentence from a 2014 money-laundering conviction.

On Friday, as Mr Lavrov and Mr Borrell sat down for talks, Mr Navalny was back in a courtroom facing charges of defaming a World War II veteran who featured in a pro-Kremlin video by referring to him as a "corrupt stooge" and a "traitor." If convicted, Mr Navalny faces a fine or community service.

The Russian foreign minister said it was up to Brussels if it wanted to impose sanctions on Russia and claimed that the EU was behaving more and more like the US.

"We share the view that a further deterioration of ties is fraught with negative and highly unpredictable consequences," Mr Lavrov said.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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