For the first time since the start of its invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has expelled an ambassador from an EU country.
Russia downgraded diplomatic ties with Estonia and ordered its ambassador to leave, citing the Baltic nation’s “total Russophobia”.
Moscow’s decision on Monday marks the first expulsion of an ambassador from an EU country since the invasion of Ukraine began on February 24.
“The Russian side has decided to demote the diplomatic representative in the two countries to the post of interim charge d’affaires,” the foreign ministry said in a statement. “The Ambassador of the Republic of Estonia will have to leave the Russian Federation on February 7.”
These measures follow Estonia’s decision to drastically reduce the staff of the Russian embassy in Tallinn.
Responding to Russia’s move, Estonia said on Monday it would also expel the Russian ambassador from Tallinn in retaliation.
“We respect the principle of parity in relations with Russia,” the Estonian Foreign Ministry said in a tweet.
#Estonia takes note of the decision taken today by Russia to reduce the diplomatic presence to the level of Chargé d’Affaires.
We respect the principle of parity in relations with Russia, which means that Amb. will leave at the same time as Amb. from Estonia. in Russia.
— Estonian MFA 🇪🇪 | 🌻 #StandWithUkraine (@MFAestonia) January 23, 2023
In a January 11 statement, Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu outlined plans to ease relations with Russia “to the absolute minimum.”
“Now we are setting a limit on the number of Russian diplomats working in Estonia in order to achieve parity. Today’s milestone correlates with the low point in our relations in general,” he said, referring to the ties that were strained by the invasion of Moscow.
Estonian Ambassador Margus Laidre was briefed on the decision after being summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Moscow, the ministry said, accusing Estonia of “deliberately destroying” relations with Moscow.
Russia has slammed Estonia’s “total Russophobia” and Tallinn’s “culture of hostility” to the “rank of state policy”.
Commenting on the downgrading of ties, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the Estonian government “got what it deserved”.
Estonia is a staunch ally of Ukraine and has called on Western countries to send tanks to Kyiv to counter Moscow’s offensive. In October, its parliament adopted a declaration declaring Russia a “terrorist regime”.
The Baltic country was once part of the Soviet Union and has had rocky relations with Russia for years.
Russia ordered the closure of the Tallinn consulate in St Petersburg in April.