MOSCOW: Moscow said Friday it was expelling diplomats from Poland, Germany and Sweden for participating in unsanctioned demonstrations last month in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
The move comes hours after the European Union’s top diplomat Josep Borrell met Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow and described the bloc’s ties with Russia as at a “low point” over Navalny’s jailing.
Borrell “strongly condemned” the action, a spokesman said, while Sweden branded it “completely unfounded,” rejecting Russia’s claim the envoy had taken part in unauthorized demonstrations in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
“The ministry considers this as completely unfounded, which we have also told our Russian counterpart,” the Swedish foreign ministry said in written remarks to AFP, adding that it “reserves the right to an appropriate response.”
The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement that an unspecified number of diplomats from the three EU countries took part in “illegal demonstrations” on January 23 and had been declared persona non grata.
“They were ordered to leave Russia in the near future,” the ministry said, adding that Moscow expects diplomats from the countries to “strictly follow the norms of international law” in the future.
Russian police have arrested more than 10,000 people at mass demonstrations across the country where protesters denounced Kremlin rule and demanded the authorities release Navalny.
The 44-year-old opposition campaigner was arrested on his arrival in Moscow last month from Germany, where he had been recovering from a poisoning attack that he blames on Russian leader Vladimir Putin.