Following the expulsion of several of its diplomats at the beginning of April, Russia chose to retaliate by expelling many European diplomats. The French, Italian, and Spanish ambassadors learned of the expulsion of their colleagues on Wednesday, May 18th when they were summoned to the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow. 34 French diplomats, 27 Spanish diplomats and 24 Italian diplomats are affecteded and have been declared personae non gratae.
The Russian government has chosen to expel slightly fewer diplomats than its own diplomats expelled a month and a half ago. Paris asked for the departure of 41 Russian diplomats as part of a ‘European démarche,’ on the grounds of espionage accusations. However, the proportion is not in France’s favour: a third of the hundred or so Frenchmen on the diplomatic list in Moscow have been expelled, compared to less than a fifth of the more than 200 Russian diplomats who were posted in Paris.
The French Foreign Ministry made its disapproval known by “firmly” condemning the Russian decision. French diplomats refute the retaliatory measure, which looks like revenge, underlining the fundamental difference between the two approaches: “The work of diplomats and staff of our embassy in Russia is, conversely, fully within the framework of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic and Consular Relations,” the Quai d’Orsay defended itself. The Italian government of Mario Draghi condemned the dismissals as a “hostile act.”
While no details were officially communicated, the French newspaper Les Échos indicates that the economic service would be the most affected, with two-thirds of its staff removed. The attaché in charge of aeronautics, one of the strongest poles of Franco-Russian cooperation but now one of the main industrial sectors targeted by Western sanctions against Moscow, is among those expelled. On the other hand, the attaché in charge of aerospace remains in Moscow, which may be seen as a way of not closing the doors to a possible revival of this important sector of Franco-Russian industrial cooperation. The consular services are spared, which makes it possible to maintain the granting of visas and the defence of French citizens in Russia. The diplomatic chancellery lost several people, while the IT department was completely emptied of its staff, hindering the proper running of the embassy.
Since the beginning of the conflict, many states have been faced with expulsions of diplomats in both directions. Germany, Slovenia, Austria, Poland, Greece, and Croatia, for example, have expelled Russian diplomats on a massive scale since the start of the offensive in Ukraine on February 24th, in some cases on charges of espionage—more than 300 people in all. Moscow had promised to match these measures, and dozens of Western diplomats have already been expelled from Russia.
Those targeted have 15 days to leave Russia. The French embassy says it has already been able to prepare for this decision—and does not rule out a second wave of expulsions in the coming weeks.