Russia on Friday expelled three diplomats from Germany, Sweden and Poland for allegedly joining protests in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, the foreign ministry of the eastern Europe country said Friday.
Although the ministry did not name the expelled diplomats, the Kremlin accused them of attending the January 23 “illegal demonstrations” that swept across Moscow and St. Petersburg, an allegation their home countries have denied.
Declaring personae non-gratae on the diplomats means they will have to leave Russia in the near future, the foreign ministry said.
The expulsions came hours after European Union foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, saying the ties between the bloc and Russia had fallen to new lows over Mr Navalny’s poisoning and imprisonment, Moscow Times reported.
Sweden called the expulsion “totally unfounded” and denied its diplomat had participated in any demonstration, BBC said.
The German foreign ministry denounced the expulsion as being “in no way justified” and said it would retaliate if Russia did not reconsider, the newspaper added.
Moscow has accused the West of hysteria and double standards over the latter’s reaction to Mr Navalny’s prosecution, and told it to stay out of its internal affairs.
Defying a heavy police presence, thousands of protesters thronged the streets of Russia’s capital Moscow and St. Petersburg on January 23, demanding the release of Alexey Navalny, a prominent opposition to the President Vladimir Putin’s regime. Thousands of the participants have since been arrested.
Mr Navalny, 44, an outspoken political activist has been the most prominent opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin since 2011, whose administration he accused of being riddled with corruption.
The anti-corruption campaigner survived an assassination attempt last August after he was poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent in eastern Russia before he was flown to Germany for treatment.
Despite warnings from the Russian government that he would be arrested, he returned home in mid-January nonetheless.
In a YouTube video that was viewed by over 100 million people, upon his return to Russia, Mr Navalny alleged that an opulent Black Sea palace was a Russian billionaires’ gift to President Putin, an allegation denied by Mr Putin.
Russian authorities swooped on the blogger late January and a Moscow court sentenced him to three-and-a-half years jail term for violating the terms of his parole, sparking nationwide demonstrations.