For the first time since its invasion of Ukraine began, Moscow expels an ambassador from an EU country.
Russia has downgraded diplomatic relations with Estonia and ordered its ambassador to leave, citing the Baltic nation’s “total Russophobia”.
Moscow’s move on Monday marks the first time it has expelled an ambassador from an EU country since the invasion of Ukraine started on February 24.
“The Russian side decided to downgrade the diplomatic representative in both countries to charge d’affaires ad interim,” the foreign ministry said in a statement. “The ambassador of the Estonian Republic will have to leave the Russian Federation on February 7.”
The measures follow Estonia’s decision to drastically reduce staff levels at Russia’s embassy in Tallinn.
Responding to Russia’s decision, Estonia on Monday said it would also expel the Russian ambassador from Tallinn in retaliation.
“We stand by the principle of parity in relations with Russia,” the Estonian ministry of foreign affairs said in a tweet.
#Estonia takes note of today’s decision by Russia to reduce diplomatic presence to the level of chargé d’affaires.
We stand by the principle of parity in relations with Russia, which means that the Russian Amb. will leave at the same time as the Estonian Amb. to 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 to the number of Russian diplomats working in Estonia in order to achieve parity. Today’s step is in correlation with the low point of our relations in general,” he said, referring to ties that have been harmed by Moscow’s invasion.
Estonian Ambassador Margus Laidre was informed of the decision after being summoned to the foreign ministry in Moscow, the ministry said, as it accused Estonia of “purposefully destroying” relations with Moscow.
Russia slammed Estonia’s “total Russophobia” and the “cultivation of hostility” by Tallinn 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 for Western countries to send tanks to Kyiv to counter Moscow’s offensive. In October, its parliament adopted a statement declaring Russia a “terrorist regime”.
The Baltic country was once part of the Soviet Union and has had difficult relations with Russia for years.
Russia ordered the closure of Tallinn’s consulate in St Petersburg in April.