EU countries should consider a new round of Russian diplomatic expulsions, Estonia has said after ejecting 21 more Russians, EUobserver reported.
“In the context of Russia’s ongoing full-scale war on the soil of Europe against Ukraine, it’s worth considering also by other countries in the Western community,” Estonian foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu told EUobserver on Wednesday (11 January).
“It’s a solely individual and sovereign decision whether to do so,” he added.
But “it’s one way to protest Russian aggression and also has some practical benefits,” Reinsalu said, referring to the fact Russian diplomats in Europe were doing nothing to advance peace.
Those left in Tallinn were mainly dealing with consular affairs and using their social media to spread propaganda, he noted.
Reinsalu spoke after Estonia told 13 Russian diplomats and eight Russian embassy technical staff to go home by 1 February.
The move leaves eight Russian diplomats and 15 other staff in place — the same number Estonia has in Moscow — in what Reinsalu called the principle of “parity”.
Estonia’s decision came after EU capitals expelled more than 300 Russian diplomats accused of espionage in the wake of a Russian massacre of Ukrainian civilians in the town of Bucha in April last year.
Most EU countries still have far fewer diplomats in Russia than vice versa despite this.
Taking the EU itself as an example, the EU foreign service has just nine diplomats in Moscow, while Russia has some 35 people left at its EU embassy in Brussels even after the Bucha-linked expulsion of 19 staff.
And Russia’s chargé d’affaires in the EU capital, Kirill Logvinov, who heads up operations since the ambassador was recalled, is himself a spy according to Belgium’s domestic intelligence service.
It remains to be seen if anyone else follows Tallinn’s lead on “parity”.
“My question is, what good does it do beyond symbolism?”, a diplomat from another EU country said.
“We do want to keep our eyes open and our ears to the ground in Russia, especially in these times,” he added, amid the likelihood Russia would also expel more EU diplomats in a new tit-for-tat exchange.
But little Estonia punches above its weight in EU foreign policy because its security services have one of the best and largest Russia counter-intelligence departments in Europe.
And the Czech Republic and Lithuania, which already apply the principle of parity to Russia, immediately endorsed Reinsalu’s idea.
“We support the decision of Estonian diplomacy,” Czech foreign minister Jan Lipavský told EUobserver.
“Given the common Schengen area and the threat Russia and its intelligence officers working under diplomatic cover pose, it [a second round of expulsions] is already long overdue,” he added, referring to Europe’s passport-free Schengen travel zone.