The measures were in retaliation for similar moves made previously by France, Spain and Italy
The Russian Foreign Ministry has declared dozens of French, Italian and Spanish diplomats ‘persona non grata’ in response to the expulsion of Russian diplomatic staff from these countries amid Moscow’s ongoing military offensive in Ukraine.
On Wednesday, the ministry summoned the ambassadors of the three countries to express “strong protest” over their countries’ “provocative” actions.
In April, France expelled 41 people from Russian diplomatic institutions.
“It was emphasized that this step causes serious damage to Russian-French relations and constructive bilateral cooperation,” the Russian ministry said in a statement.
As a response, Moscow has designated 34 employees of French diplomatic institutions ‘persona non grata’.
“They are ordered to leave the territory of Russia within two weeks from the date of delivery of the corresponding note to the Ambassador,” the ministry said.
In response to the expulsion of 27 Russian diplomatic staff employees from Spain, Moscow has blacklisted a similar number of staff from Spain’s embassy in Moscow and consulate general in St. Petersburg. They must leave the country within a week of the date of the announcement.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova confirmed to RIA Novosti on Wednesday that 24 Italian diplomats had been also ordered to leave following the Italian government’s announcement in early April of the expulsion of 30 Russian diplomats.
Both France and Italy condemned Moscow’s decision, with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi even calling the expulsions a “hostile act.” He emphasized the importance of diplomatic channels by saying that “it is through those channels that, if we succeed, peace will be achieved and that is certainly what we want.”
Late last month, the ministry revealed that since the launch of Moscow’s military offensive in Ukraine on February 24, around 400 diplomats had been expelled from 28 countries. France, Spain and many other nations explained their moves by citing security considerations. Russia views the expulsions as “unfriendly” actions, or, in the words of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, as acts of “boorishness.”
Moscow has previously warned that it would retaliate to all such moves.
Russia attacked the neighboring state in late February, following Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, first signed in 2014, and Moscow’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German- and French-brokered protocols were designed to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.
The Kremlin has since demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.