NATO’s Baltic states and Russia are removing ambassadors as diplomatic relations deteriorate

23 Jan. (Reuters) – NATO and EU members Estonia and Latvia told their Russian ambassadors to leave after Moscow said it was deteriorating diplomatic relations with Estonia, accusing it of “total Russophobia”.

Estonia, Latvia and their Baltic neighbor Lithuania are among a group of NATO allies strongly advocating for Germany to supply its Leopard main battle tanks to boost Ukraine in repelling the Russian invasion.

Russia’s foreign ministry said it had told the Estonian envoy to leave next month, and that both countries would be represented in each other’s capitals by a temporary chargĂ© d’affaires rather than an ambassador.

Estonia responded similarly, telling the Russian envoy to leave on February 7, Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said.

“We will continue to support Ukraine as Russia plans large-scale attacks, and we call on other like-minded countries to increase their aid to Ukraine,” Reinsalu said in a statement.

Latvia, in solidarity with Estonia, has instructed its envoy in Moscow to leave by February 27, according to a tweet from Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics. Both countries said they are deteriorating their diplomatic relations with Russia to get to the level of the matter.

Lithuania expelled its Russian envoy and demoted diplomatic representation in April after Ukraine accused Russian troops of killing civilians in the city of Bucha.

Moscow said Monday’s move was in response to a decision by Estonia to reduce the size of the Russian embassy in Tallinn.

“In recent years, the Estonian leadership has deliberately destroyed the whole set of relations with Russia. Total Russophobia, the cultivation of hostility towards our country, has been elevated by Tallinn to the rank of state policy,” it said.

Commenting on the deterioration in ties, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: “The Estonian regime got what it deserved.”

Estonia told Russia on January 11 to reduce the number of diplomats at its embassy in Tallinn to eight, equal to the number of Estonian diplomats in Moscow.

All three Baltic countries joined some other Western allies last week in sending more weapons of their own to Ukraine.

Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Edited by Gareth Jones and Mark Porter

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