Russia Expels Envoys Over Navalny Protests Hours After EU Talks

Russia expelled diplomats from Poland, Germany and Sweden for their “recorded participation” in protests against the jailing of opposition leader Alexey Navalny, sparking fresh confrontation hours after the first high-level talks with the European Union in years.

The Foreign Ministry summoned envoys from the three EU nations to declare the unnamed diplomats persona non grata for their “unacceptable” attendance at rallies in St. Petersburg and Moscow on Jan. 23, according to a statement on its website. It didn’t say how many diplomats were being ordered to leave Russia.

The action drew a swift rebuke from the leaders of Germany and France, who were speaking in a joint press conference after a video conference on defense initiatives.

“I condemn with the greatest firmness from start to finish, what is happening” in Russia in connection with Navalny, French President Emmanuel Macron said. German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the expulsions another example of the “violation of the rule of law” in Russia, but said it was necessary to maintain diplomatic relations with the Kremlin.

The decision was announced after EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell met Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow for the bloc’s first high-level talks in Russia since 2017. He criticized Russia’s imprisonment of Navalny and the detention of thousands of protesters at rallies in dozens of cities since Jan. 23, the biggest unauthorized anti-government demonstrations in a decade.

A Moscow court jailed Navalny on Tuesday for 2 years and 8 months, drawing U.S. and European condemnation. He was detained in mid-January as he returned from Germany, where he recovered from a near-fatal poisoning that he and Western governments blamed on President Vladimir Putin’s security services. The Kremlin denies responsibility.

The expulsion of the diplomats “is in no way justified and further damages relations with Europe,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in an emailed statement. The German envoy was performing his duties to gather information in line with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and “if the Russian Federation does not reconsider this step, it will not go unanswered,” Maas said.

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