DIPLOMATIC TIT-FOR-TAT FRIDAY SAW RUSSIA EXPEL A SPATE OF DIPLOMATS, FOUR CANADIANS AMONG THEM, AFTER MANY NATIONS THREW OUT RUSSIAN ENVOYS OVER THE NERVE AGENT ATTACK ON TWO RUSSIANS IN THE U.K.
Diplomats headed home as Kremlin responds tit-for-tat
MOSCOW • A parade of ambassadors passed through Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Friday to receive formal protests and details about Moscow’s plans to expel more diplomats in a deepening crisis with the West.
The series of meetings — an astonishing display of envoys arriving one after the other — marked the latest twist in tit-for-tat moves following the March 4 nerve agent poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter in Britain.
Among those being hauled in Friday was Canadian Ambassador to Russia John R. Kur.
Four Canadian diplomats are among those being kicked out of the country as the massive expulsion of diplomats reaches a scale unseen even at the height of the Cold War.
“We can confirm that four Canadian diplomats have been declared person non grata by the Russian government,” said Adam Austen, press secretary to Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland in a statement Friday morning. “The well-being of Global Affairs Canada employees is our priority. We will be making every effort to support those affected and their families with their return to Canada.”
Canada declared four Russians persona non grata in solidarity with the U.K. earlier this week.
British Prime Minister Theresa May is accusing Russia of using a nerve agent to attempt the murder of a former agent and his daughter on British soil. About a week after her government expelled 23 Russian diplomats — and had 23 U.K. reps sent away from Russia in return — more than 20 countries announced they would join the U.K. and collectively expel more than 150 Russian diplomats.
On Tuesday, shortly after the U.S. announced it was expelling 60 individuals, Canada said it would be expelling four, from the Russian embassy in Ottawa and the consulate in Montreal. A statement from Freeland said that the individuals had “used their diplomatic status to undermine Canada’s security or interfere in our democracy.”
Another three applications for new diplomatic staff were being denied.
Global Affairs Canada would not answer repeated questions this week about whether Russia could immediately apply to send more personnel here, or whether all applications for accreditation were being frozen out.
In the statement Friday confirming the tit-for-tat retaliation, Austen repeated that Canada considers the attack in Salisbury, U.K. to be “despicable, heinous and reckless.”
He called it a “direct attack on the rules-based international order.”
Canada’s action on Tuesday was not “aimed at the Russian people, with whom Canada has long and fruitful ties,” Austen said. “Canada remains committed to dialogue and co-operation with Russia on issues where we face common challenges.”
On Friday, it was Moscow’s turn to answer in kind, ordering a host of expulsions of diplomats.
It came after Moscow on Thursday announced it would expel 60 American diplomats and close the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned Thursday that any action against Russia’s diplomatic corps would be “mirrored” by Moscow.
More than a dozen European ambassadors were told to appear at the ministry in central Moscow Friday to receive formal notes of protest and notices of expulsion orders.
The procession began with the German, French and Italian ambassadors in the early afternoon. They were greeted with scores of television cameras perched by the looming grey doors — which still bear the hammer and sickle insignia of the Soviet Union — that lead into the halls of the Stalinist skyscraper the Foreign Ministry calls home.
Rüdiger Freiherr von Fritsch, the German ambassador, stopped to engage briefly with journalists from the state news channel Rossiya 24.
“I used today’s opportunity to emphasize two things,” von Fritsch said.
“The first is that it is still in Germany’s interests to have good relations with Russia ... We remain open to dialogue.”
British Ambassador Laurie Bristow, who has been summoned to the ministry several times this week, did not comment on what transpired during the meeting.
But the Russian Foreign Ministry said later in a statement that it was taking special measures against Britain: the size of British diplomatic mission in Russia would be limited to the size of Russia’s mission in Britain. The numbers were not specified.
One by one, the diplomats’ cars pulled up the Foreign Ministry’s driveway for meetings that lasted about a half-hour. The line of black sedans was broken only by the Swedish ambassador, travelling in a silver Volvo SUV.
Canadian Ambassador to Russia John R. Kur leaves the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow on Friday. Four Canadians are among those being kicked out of the country as the massive expulsion of diplomats reaches a scale unseen even at the height of the...