The mass expulsion of Russian officials from embassies across Europe accelerated on Tuesday amid outrage over Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine and growing concern about spies masquerading as diplomats.
Italy, Spain, Denmark and Sweden announced the expulsion of a total of 73 Russian diplomats, following similar moves in recent days by Germany, Poland and Slovakia.
The moves took the number of Russian diplomats ejected from the EU since the invasion of Ukraine to at least 293, according to Financial Times calculations.
The actions represent a further effort to isolate Russia internationally and will close down more communication channels between Moscow and the EU.
The latest expulsions came as EU finance ministers met in Luxembourg to discuss imposing even harsher sanctions on Moscow following the apparent killing of Ukrainian civilians by its troops in the Kyiv suburbs.
Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky is preparing to address the UN Security Council about the alleged atrocities later on Tuesday. Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, said he had spoken to António Guterres, UN secretary-general, and urged him to make use of mechanisms “to collect evidence and hold Russian war criminals to account”.
Luigi di Maio, Italy’s foreign minister, said during an official trip to Berlin that Rome had branded 30 Russian diplomats unwelcome persons.
“This decision . . . was made necessary by reasons linked to our national security,” the official Italian news agency, ANSA, quoted Di Maio as saying. He added that the expulsions were spurred by “the current crisis situation caused by the unjustified attack on Ukraine by the Russian Federation”.
Denmark separately announced it was expelling 15 Russian diplomats, with Jeppe Kofod, foreign minister, calling them “a threat to our national security”.
“It’s in our mutual interest to maintain diplomatic ties, but we will not accept Russian espionage on Danish soil,” Kofod wrote on Twitter.
Sweden also announced the expulsion of three Russian diplomats from the country. A senior Swedish security official said last year: “We know that every third Russian diplomat works under what we call ‘diplomatic cover’ and actually works for one of Russia’s intelligence services.”
Russian diplomats turned away from their postings in recent days include 40 from Germany on Monday, 45 from Poland, and 35 from Slovakia.
After Italy’s expulsion of diplomats was announced, a Russian foreign ministry official said Moscow would “give a corresponding response”, Russia’s Tass news agency reported.