European countries expel a total of 20 Russian diplomats

Bulgaria and the Baltic republics accuse those expelled of activities contrary to their diplomatic duties, such as propaganda or espionage
AFP/FABRICE COFFRINI  -   El ministro de Asuntos Exteriores de Rusia Sergei Lavrov

AFP/FABRICE COFFRINI  -   Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has provoked a united and forceful response from the European Union. The EU 27 have imposed economic sanctions against Russian politicians and oligarchs, as well as other measures such as closing airspace to Russian aircraft and suspending the activities of pro-Russian media outlets such as Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik on EU territory.

In addition, the European Parliament has restricted access to Russian and Belarusian diplomatic personnel because, according to Parliament's President Roberta Metsola, "there is no place in the house of democracy for those who want to destroy the democratic order".

parlamento europeo
PHOTO/FILE - European Parliament 

However, it is not only European institutions that have acted against the Kremlin's diplomacy. Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have expelled a total of 20 Russian diplomats. Sofia gave 10 diplomats 72 hours to leave the country on Friday. Vilnius expelled four, while Tallinn and Riga expelled three each.

Both Bulgaria and the Baltic republics have accused those expelled of activities contrary to their diplomatic work. Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics also added that Russia's ongoing aggression against Ukraine was taken into account in the decision.

His Estonian counterpart, Eva-Maria Liimets, argued for the expulsion by stating that the Russian diplomats "directly and actively undermined Estonia's security and spread propaganda justifying Russia's military action".

REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO - Una mujer cerca de un bloque de pisos, que fue destruido durante el conflicto entre Ucrania y Rusia en la sitiada ciudad portuaria del sur de Mariupol, Ucrania 17 de marzo de 2022
REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO - A woman stands near a block of flats, which was destroyed during the conflict between Ukraine and Russia in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine 17 March 2022.

Lithuania, for its part, stressed that the expulsions were made "in solidarity with Ukraine". Also, as EFE reports, the wording used in the Lithuanian statement suggests that the expelled Russians were involved in espionage activities.

Bulgaria already expelled two Russian diplomats for this reason in early March. The Foreign Ministry announced that it had received evidence that the suspects were involved in "intelligence activities".

According to the prosecutor's office, one of the Russian diplomats had received confidential information from a Bulgarian defence ministry official since 2016, Euronews notes. As a result, some Bulgarian nationals have also been detained. In November, six people, including military intelligence officers, were arrested on suspicion of spying for Russia.

Regarding the recent expulsions, Russia's ambassador in Sofia, Eleonora Mitrofanova, said that this decision has been perceived "as an extremely hostile act and we reserve the right to retaliate".

Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores de Rusia/Handout via REUTERS - La portavoz del Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores ruso, Maria Zakharova
Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS - Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova

For their part, the Bulgarian authorities argued that several members of the Russian diplomatic delegation had carried out activities in the country that were "incompatible with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations".

Maria Zakharova, spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, also condemned the decision of the European countries. "All unfounded expulsions of Russian diplomats will receive an appropriate response," Zakharova warned.

In addition to Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Slovakia also expelled three Russian embassy employees based on information from its secret service earlier this week. According to Bratislava, the suspects collected highly confidential, strategic and classified information about the country, its armed forces and NATO