- Russia declared the three diplomats persona non grata on Friday for attending the anti-government protests in support of Mr. Navalny.
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the declarations of persona non grata of the diplomats as “unjustified.”
- More than 11,000 people, according to independent sources, have been arrested in anti-government protests in recent weeks in major Russian cities.
Russia on Monday defended itself from widespread criticism for its decision to expel three European diplomats for allegedly participating in unauthorized protests in support of the country’s jailed opposition leader, Alexei Navalni. Their expulsion coincided with the visit to Moscow by Josep Borrell on Friday.
The declaration of the three foreign diplomats as personae non gratae was a “consequence of the actions of some diplomatic missions in Moscow against the backdrop of illegal riots,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Monday.
The statement came in direct reference to the three diplomats that were expelled by Russia. The three are from Germany, Poland and Sweden.
The announcement of the diplomats’ expulsion coincided with the visit on Friday of the High Representative for Foreign Policy of the European Union (EU), Josep Borrell, who learned about the news during lunch with his Russian colleague, Sergei Lavrov.
Mr. Borrell immediately asked for explanations from Minister Lavrov, and expressed his opposition to the move.
Mr. Borrell told a media briefing after the meeting with Lavrov that the expelled diplomats were not demonstrating but doing their job by “observing” the situation in Russia over the Navalny case.
Besides his strong condemnation of the expulsion, Mr. Borrell also argued that the decision “must be reconsidered.”
Merkel Condemns the Expulsion
Also in opposition to the move, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, described the declarations of persona non grata of the diplomats as “unjustified.” Her Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, added that the measure “clouds Russia’s relations with Europe.”
Russia declared the three diplomats persona non grata on Friday for attending the anti-government protests in support of Mr. Navalny, who was sentenced last Tuesday to three and a half years in prison for an old criminal case.
The Foreign Ministry summoned the ambassadors to express its “protest,” as a result of the participation of officials from the Swedish and Polish consulates in Saint Petersburg, and from the German Embassy in Moscow in the day of protests on January 23rd.
Minister Lavrov’s department stressed that these are “unacceptable actions that do not correspond to the diplomat’s diplomatic status.”
More than 11,000 people, according to independent sources, have been arrested in anti-government protests in recent weeks in major Russian cities.
Human rights defenders have denounced numerous cases of excessive use of force by the Russian security forces, and criticized the conditions of detention of detainees, many of them young supporters of the detained opposition leader.
The protests have currently temporarily been suspended, but the politician’s allies have vowed to continue to fight for his release. They have been prioritizing “foreign policy methods,” including pressuring Western leaders to impose sanctions, while not shirking from street rallies down the line.
“We won’t run out of reasons, and we won’t run out of demands,” said a Navalny Supporter.
“If Putin thinks the most frightening things are behind him, he is very sorely and naïvely mistaken,” Leonid Volkov, a top aide to Mr. Navalny, said on a live broadcast to YouTube from an undisclosed location outside Russia.