Russia expels European diplomats over Navalny protests

The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement that Moscow considered the actions of the diplomats unacceptable.

A woman attends a gathering to show support for Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, in Saint Petersburg, Russia August 20, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A woman attends a gathering to show support for Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, in Saint Petersburg, Russia August 20, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Russia announced the expulsion of diplomats from France, Germany, Sweden and Poland on Friday, accusing them of taking part in illegal protests last month against the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
The foreign ministry said in a statement that Moscow considered the actions of the diplomats unacceptable.
"We consider this expulsion to be unjustified," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters after a video conference on defense and security issues with French President Emmanuel Macron, adding that the two had received news of the expulsions during the meeting. 
Merkel also said this is a "further step away from the rule of law" in Russia. 
Macron said on Friday he "very strongly" condemned Moscow's behavior towards Kremlin critic Navalny from his poisoning to his arrest and to the expulsion of foreign diplomats.
"I stand in solidarity with the three countries that have had their diplomats expelled," Macron told a news conference following a virtual meeting of the France-German Defense and Security Council.
Poland has summoned the Russian ambassador over the expulsion of a Polish diplomat in St. Petersburg who was accused of taking part in protests against the jailing of Kremlin critic Navalny, the foreign ministry said on Friday.
"The Polish side expects the Russian authorities to reverse this erroneous decision," the foreign ministry said in a statement. "Otherwise, Poland leaves itself the option to take appropriate steps."
Merkel added that Germany was prepared to continue sanctions on Russia, including against individuals, but said it was a "diplomatic duty" to keep open channels of communication with Europe's giant eastern neighbor.
She told the joint news conference with Macron that Germany was, "for the time being", sticking to its position in favor of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which is opposed by the United States and much of Europe.
"In connection with the events in Russia, we have already said that we reserve the right to continue sanctions, especially against individuals. The position on Nord Stream 2 is not affected by this for the time being; this is a project on which you know the position of the federal government," Merkel said. 
British foreign minister Dominic Raab called Russia's expulsion of EU diplomats a "crude attempt" to distract from the country's targeting of opposition leaders, saying on Friday that London stood in solidarity with its "European friends."
"The expulsion of German, Polish and Swedish diplomats from Russia for simply doing their jobs is a crude attempt to distract from Russia's targeting of opposition leaders, protesters and journalists," Raab said on Twitter.
"We stand in solidarity with our European friends in the face of this unjustified action," he added. "This is the latest in a series of actions, since the poisoning of @Navalny, which shows the Russian government turning its back on international law." 

This is a developing story.