First EU member expels Russian ambassador
Lithuania has become the first EU country to expel a Russian ambassador over Moscow's ongoing military attack on Ukraine. Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said that Vilnius’ own top diplomat in Moscow would also be recalled in the coming days.
In addition, his government has decided to shut down the Russian consulate in the city of Klaipeda.
Both Lithuania and Latvia had announced earlier on Monday that they plan to downgrade their diplomatic relations with Moscow.
“In response to Russia’s relentless aggressive actions in Ukraine, the Lithuanian government has made the decision to downgrade the status of diplomatic representation,” Landsbergis said, speaking to journalists. “The Russian ambassador will have to leave Lithuania,” he added.
The Baltic state’s top diplomat also revealed that Lithuania had notified its EU and NATO allies of the move, calling on them to “follow our example.” Additionally, Landsbergis said that the Lithuanian ambassador to Ukraine would return to Kiev, which he had left due to the deteriorating security situation around the capital.
Moreover, according to the official, the Lithuanian government is considering closing its borders with Russia and Belarus.
Shortly after Landsbergis’ announcement, Latvia’s Foreign Minister, Edgars Rinkevics, tweeted that Riga would also downgrade its diplomatic relations with Moscow, in light of the “crimes committed by the Russian armed forces in Ukraine.” He added that “specific decisions will be announced once internal procedures have been completed.” However, according to media reports, this is likely to mean that Latvia, too, will expel the Russian ambassador and recall its own from Moscow.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry’s Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has responded, saying that “retaliatory measures won’t take long.”
Following the start of Russia’s military offensive against Ukraine on February 24, Moscow has been slapped with several rounds of biting economic sanctions imposed by the US, Canada, the UK, the whole of the EU, Japan, Australia and a few other nations. The punitive measures, among other objectives, target the Russian central bank’s assets, several of the country’s major commercial banks, entire industries, as well as individual business persons and top officials.
Nonetheless, the Baltic states and Poland claim that the European Union is not doing enough, and are calling on their allies to step up pressure.
On Saturday, Lithuania announced that it would stop importing gas from Russia “from this month on,” its president, Gitanas Nauseda, tweeting that his country was severing “energy ties with the aggressor.”
In late March, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, too, vowed to stop buying Russian hydrocarbons by the end of the year.
UPDATE: The previous version of this article erroneously stated that both Lithuania and Latvia have expelled their ambassadors to Russia. After review, the article has been amended to reflect that Latvia has downgraded its diplomatic relations with Russia but will announce specific measures later.