Tensions between Russia and Baltic EU member countries Estonia and Latvia escalated Monday after Moscow told Estonia’s ambassador to leave.
The Russian foreign ministry said it had asked Estonia’s ambassador to depart on February 7, citing “Russophobia” and Tallinn’s reduction of Russian embassy staff in the country.
“The Estonian leadership has been deliberately destroying the entire set of relations with Russia in recent years. Total Russophobia and the cultivation of animosity with regards to our country have been elevated by Tallinn to the rank of a state policy,” the Russian ministry said in a statement.
Earlier this month, Estonia told Russia to cut the number of diplomats in Tallinn to eight to match the number of Estonian diplomats in Moscow. Because of this, the Russian foreign ministry said Monday it would downgrade diplomatic relations with Tallinn and each country would be represented by an interim charge d’affaires instead of an ambassador.
Estonia responded in kind by saying the Russian ambassador in Tallinn must also leave the country on February 7.
“Russia’s steps will not deter us from providing continued support to Ukraine, which has been fighting for its sovereignty and the security of us all for nearly a year now,” said Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu. “We will continue to support Ukraine as Russia is planning large-scale attacks, and we call on other like-minded countries to increase their assistance to Ukraine.”
Neighboring Latvia’s Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs later said his country would follow Estonia and also lower the level of diplomatic relations with Russia, effective February 24, “demanding Russia to act accordingly.”
Lithuania’s foreign ministry voiced “full solidarity” with Estonia and said Russia’s “unfounded and unjustified” move was “a sign of simple desperation.” Vilnius already expelled its Russian ambassador in April after reports of atrocities by Russian soldiers in the Ukrainian town of Bucha.
The diplomatic row came as EU foreign ministers met in Brussels to discuss Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, among other topics. The three Baltic countries have been vocal about demanding tougher sanctions for Russia as well as better assistance for Ukraine, with the trio urging Germany over the weekend to provide Leopard tanks to Kyiv.