Russia has ordered a total of seven diplomats from three Baltic nations and Slovakia to leave the country in a retaliatory response to their governments’ own expulsions of Russian envoys.
The Russian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday gave the three diplomats from Slovakia, two from Lithuania, one from Estonia and another from Latvia one week to leave Russia.
Moscow’s action marks the latest escalation of a serious diplomatic fallout between Russia and several European Union nations that began earlier this month when the Czech Republic expelled 18 Russian diplomats over the alleged involvement of Russian spies in a massive ammunition depot explosion in 2014.
The two suspects named by Prague in connection with the blast, known under the aliases Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov, have been reported to be part of the elite Unit 29155 of Russia’s GRU military intelligence service.
Moscow, however, has denied playing any role in the blast.
Last week, Slovakia expelled three Russian diplomats in a show of solidarity with the Czechs. Lithuania also expelled two Russian diplomats and Estonia and Latvia each ordered one Russian embassy worker out.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, all former Soviet republics, broke away from the Soviet Union about 30 years ago and joined NATO and the EU in 2004. They are among the Kremlin’s harshest critics.
While announcing its retaliatory moves, the Russian Foreign Ministry denounced the three Baltic nations for taking what it described as an “openly hostile course” against Moscow under the guise of “pseudo solidarity” with Prague.
It also noted that Slovakia’s expulsions had hurt the “traditionally friendly relations” between the two countries.
Separately on Wednesday Bulgarian prosecutors said they were collecting evidence for the possible involvement of six Russian citizens in four explosions at Bulgarian arms depots between 2011 and 2020 that were storing munitions destined for export to Georgia and Ukraine.
The prosecutors said they could reasonably assume links between the explosions in Bulgaria, the attempted poisoning of Bulgarian arms trader Emilian Gebrev and the 2014 munitions depot explosion in the Czech Republic.