Russia Expels Western Diplomats Over Navalny Rally

( Russia’s Foreign Ministry confirmed on Friday that they would be expelling diplomats representing Poland, Germany, and Sweden. It comes after the diplomats expressed their support for Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny who was jailed for three-and-a-half years for violating his parole when he was in a medically induced coma.

Navalny was placed into a coma after being exposed to the deadly nerve agent novichok, which the Russian government insists was administered by a foreign agent.

The treatment of Navalny has been condemned all over the world, with his most recent jailing showing Western governments just how far the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin will go to silence opposition.

The Russian Foreign Ministery said that diplomats from the three countries had taken part in rallies that supported Navalny, which were deemed “illegal” by the Russian government. Tens of thousands of Russians protested across Russia on January 23 calling for the release of Navalny.

In an official statement, the Russian ministry labeled the diplomats “persona non grata” and said that they would be required to leave the country “shortly.”

Foreign Affairs ministries of several European countries came out in support of the diplomats and in opposition to Russia’s decision to expel them. Lithuanian government officials said that the country “expresses solidarity with Germany, Poland, & Sweden regarding Russia’s decision to expel three European diplomats for observing protests in support of @navalny.”

Austria’s foreign ministry also said that the decision “puts further strain on our relations” and called for “more not less diplomacy.”

Last Friday, the European Union’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell met with Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, to discuss Navalny’s sentencing.

“Certainly, our relations are under a severe strain, and that Navalny case is a low point in our relations,” Borrell said about his talks with the Russian government.

Navalny is 44 years old and the most outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin. He was arrested in January after returning from Germany where he had spent almost half a year recovering from his novichok poisoning.