Russia expels two Lithuanian diplomats in tit-for-tat move

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Russia may also bar the Lithuanian embassy in Moscow from hiring Russian nationals under a so-called list of unfriendly countries. [EPA-EFE/ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO]

The Russian foreign ministry has expelled two diplomats from the Lithuanian embassy in Moscow, as well as one employee each from the embassies of Latvia and Estonia.

According to the ministry, the expulsions on Wednesday (28 April) were “based on the principle of reciprocity” after the Baltic countries expelled several Russian diplomats last week, with Lithuania expelling two staff members of the Russian Embassy in Vilnius on Friday.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said the expelled individuals were intelligence officers working under diplomatic cover. Latvia and Estonia expelled one Russian diplomat each.

The move was a show of solidarity with the Czech Republic which has accused Russian military intelligence agency GRU of being involved in the deadly explosion at an arms depot in 2014. 

Lithuanian Ambassador Eitvydas Bajarūnas, who was summoned to the Russian foreign ministry on Wednesday, was handed a diplomatic note on the expulsion of two staff members of the Lithuanian representation, a diplomat and a state official, Lithuania’s foreign ministry has said.

“The ambassador was informed that this decision by the Russian Federation comes in response to Vilnius’ recent actions when it expelled two staff members from the Russian Embassy in Vilnius last Friday, declaring them personae non gratae for their activity incompatible with the diplomatic status and ordering them to leave Lithuanian within seven days,” the ministry said in a statement.

The Lithuanian foreign ministry said the expelled Lithuanian Embassy staff members had never been involved in any activity incompatible with diplomatic duties.

“The ministry also hopes that Russia will change its aggressive foreign policy course, stop blaming other states for the escalation of the situation and will finally hear the signals sent by Western countries,” the statement said.

List of unfriendly countries

Meanwhile, Russia may also bar the Lithuanian embassy in Moscow from hiring Russian nationals under a so-called list of unfriendly countries, which was ordered to be drafted by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“These people [locals] are usually hired for technical work. Truth be told, I don’t see it as a big problem, we’ll hire Lithuanians,” lawmaker Žygimantas Pavilionis, chairman of the Lithuanian parliamentary foreign affairs committee, told LRT RADIO on Wednesday.

“Once the foreign minister [Landsbergis] is back from the Caucasus, we will discuss in the foreign affairs committee whether we should respond in kind,” he added.

[Edited by Josie Le Blond]

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