Moscow (The Times Groupe)- Russia on Wednesday announced it was expelling 85 embassy staff from France, Spain and Italy in response to a similar move by those countries. The move illustrates the deterioration of its relations with major European Union members since its war in the Ukraine.
The Foreign Ministry has ordered out 34 diplomatic staff from France, 27 from Spain, and 24 from Italy.
The three countries have collectively expelled more than 300 Russians since the Feb. 24 invasion. Russian diplomats have been accused of spying in many instances, but Moscow denies this.
Last month, Russia sent 45 Polish and 40 German employees home. Among other countries, Finland, Romania, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Japan have also been targeted with tit-for-tat moves.
Prime Minister Mario Draghi called Moscow’s announcement a “hostile act” and urged diplomatic channels not to be interrupted.
France deplored the Russian move as an unjustified retaliation to its own expulsion in April of “several dozen Russian agents acting on its territory under diplomatic status and working against our security interests”.
In a statement, the Foreign Ministry of Spain repudiated the Russian decision as being not based on reciprocity, citing “duly justified security reasons” for the expulsion of Russian embassy staff from Madrid last month, “which is not the case now.”
Italian diplomats have always acted in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
“Italy again condemns the aggression against Ukraine by the Russian Federation and strongly calls for a ceasefire that will end civilian suffering and guarantee the start of concrete negotiations for a political settlement,” Italy’s foreign ministry said.