“Of course, there will be damage to both sides”
The expulsion of Russian diplomats from two dozen European countries, although an expected step by the collective West, turned out to be unprecedented in its kind. In total, since the start of the special operation in Ukraine, at least 24 states, as well as the European Union, have announced such a decision. The total number of expelled domestic diplomats exceeded 300 people. Moscow has announced symmetrical retaliatory measures, while experts agree on one thing: like an exchange of sanctions, a new round of confrontation is dangerous for all sides.
The building of the Russian Embassy in Germany Photo: Global Look Press
The immediate reason was the information about allegedly found in the Ukrainian Bucha “numerous victims of the Russian operation.” As a result, within a little over a day, almost two dozen European states declared Russian diplomats persona non grata. Such a status implies that the employees of the missions carried out activities incompatible with their position (whether it be espionage or something similar), therefore, they are now deprived of immunity and must leave the host country within the agreed time frame.
Among the leaders were, of course, countries where the diplomatic missions of the Russian Federation are traditionally numerous – Germany (40 deported), France (35 deported), – as well as states that have long and systematically pursued an openly anti-Russian line, not losing sight of any opportunity to demarche.
Poland jumped ahead of the largest members of the European Union, declaring 45 diplomats persona non grata, and in total expelled the Baltic countries as many, and Latvia and Lithuania even refused the presence of Russian ambassadors on their territory.
But some countries, even despite in solidarity with the common “anti-Russian front”, they decided to postpone the reduction of diplomatic relations. For example, the Japanese authorities, according to local media, fear that Moscow's reaction will affect the situation of Japanese citizens in our country.
Russia announced retaliatory measures, and the steps taken abroad were called an element of information warfare.
“In recent decades, the collective West has begun to use the declaration of Russian diplomats persona non grata as a tool not for diplomatic work, but for information and political attack,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
As a rule, the responses of the Russian side in such situations are symmetrical. Suffice it to recall the largest expulsion of Russian diplomats from abroad so far in March 2018, after the incident in Salisbury, in which the West blamed Russia. But even then, the scale was much smaller than it is now, since in two weeks 29 countries and NATO expelled a total of just over 150 diplomatic staff.
In the case of each state, Russia acted on the principle of reciprocity, expelling exactly the same number of foreign employees of embassies and consulates (the exception was the UK, which was ordered to recall another 27 people in order to bring the number of the British diplomatic mission in Moscow and the Russian one in London into full compliance) . But the mass expulsions seemed to be over: the subsequent “exchanges” of their own diplomats were already narrowly focused. So, last year, the Czech Republic expelled 18 Russian workers (in connection with which, along with the United States, it was included in the list of countries unfriendly to the Russian Federation), but the process did not expand in breadth.
In the current situation, it is quite likely that the process launched by the West will not stop at mutual and equivalent measures. As Alexander Panov, head of the Department of Diplomacy at MGIMO MFA of Russia, ex-ambassador of the Russian Federation to Norway, South Korea and Japan, noted in a conversation with MK, it is possible that “the exchange itself” will not follow the “one-on-one” scheme: in in any case, the expulsion from the Russian side will be significant.”
“Of course, the current steps of the European countries are a coordinated demarche,” the diplomat said. “As for who he harms, of course there will be harm for both sides. The mass expulsion of diplomats radically reduces the possibilities of communication, obtaining information, providing visa services, and helping their own citizens. We are talking about interrupting all contacts: political, economic, cultural – this will have the most negative effect on bilateral relations. It is double-edged, as is the imposition of sanctions on the economy, which we are already seeing. In the history of diplomatic relations, I do not remember such a mass phenomenon, this is the first such case.
According to Alexander Panov, declaring the exiled diplomats persona non grata is just a stupid pretext: “The West needs to somehow cover up its own strange actions. Therefore, statements were made about persona non grata, who were allegedly engaged in some dubious activities abroad. But in this case, a natural question arises: why, with such a scale of the problem, the wait turned out to be so long? So the pretext is not even just unconvincing, but tritely stupid. If we talk about the prospects of replacing the expelled diplomats with new ones, then I think many countries may refuse such an option.”
If in the case of the “Skripal case” it was possible to slow down the process of confrontation and continue contacts, albeit with the “truncated » missions, now there are few chances to get out of the diplomatic crisis.
“This is not a matter of the next few months, and everything will depend on the further development of events in Ukraine and around it. But under any scenario, the restoration of diplomatic relations to the previous level will be long and difficult,” Alexander Panov is sure.
First Vice President of the Center for Political Technologies Alexei Makarkin, in turn, considers the recent actions of the West not an attempt to put pressure on Russia, but part of a strategy to “fence off” from it.
“I do not think that anyone seriously expects that such measures will entail some immediate result. Even in current events, it is impossible to imagine that Russia will change its policy in response to the expulsion of diplomats. This, as we see, is not happening,” the political scientist said in a conversation with MK. – In my opinion, the matter is different: for Western countries, these steps are a stage on the path of fencing off from Russia.
The situation is changing quite quickly – even if we look at the trends at the beginning of the year, we will see that, rather, Moscow fenced itself off from the West. In the same place, on the contrary, they talked about the need to preserve relations, that they should not be driven into a corner, and negotiations and any contacts are better than their absence … And although even then there were expulsions of diplomats, they were of a targeted nature. At that time, the “cold war” was actually going on, within which individual such steps were not something extraordinary.
At the same time, if you look at the experience of the previous Cold War, then mass expulsions were quite rare, usually timed to coincide with some kind of spy scandals, and were not accompanied by similar actions by several countries at once. Suffice it to recall the expulsions of Soviet diplomats from Great Britain under Margaret Thatcher, or from France, to which, for example, Germany or Belgium did not react in any way, it was a matter of exclusively bilateral relations against the backdrop of a general confrontation.
Now we are seeing a mass phenomenon, the actual reduction to a minimum of the apparatus of embassies in a number of states, and this means that since February 24, the West has switched to a policy of isolating Russia in various areas. In particular, in the case of the exclusion of the Russian Federation from the Council of Europe, Western countries even outstripped Moscow, which, despite its rhetoric, was in no hurry to leave the CE.
Aleksey Makarkin also doubts the possibility of “compensating” losses in diplomatic missions for counting new figures – this will depend on the specific country.
“It is important to understand that we are not talking about automatic replacement of employees. The declaration of persona non grata in this case is an element that speaks not of a simple reduction in staff, but of an actual accusation of acts against the host country. In addition, any diplomat sent “for replacement” must still apply for accreditation, and we saw how they can be considered in the United States, where some of the workers were expelled, but new candidates were not approved. Even in calmer times, there were situations when, for example, a diplomat's term of office expires, and the one who should replace him is not accredited, although this seems to be a routine situation. With the United States, this confrontation at the level of embassies began earlier, but in Europe it can happen now,” the expert concluded.