LONDON (Reuters) – Russia said on Wednesday it was expelling a total of 85 embassy staff from France, Spain and Italy in response to similar moves by those countries, highlighting the damage to relations with leading EU members since it launched its war on Ukraine.
The Foreign Ministry said it was ordering out 34 diplomatic staff from France, 27 from Spain and 24 from Italy.
The three countries are among European nations that have collectively thrown out more than 300 Russians since the Feb. 24 invasion. In many cases, they accused Russian diplomats of spying, which Moscow has denied.
Russia’s response has included sending home 45 Polish staff and 40 Germans last month. It has also announced tit-for-tat moves against Finland, Romania, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Japan, among others.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi called Wednesday’s announcement by Moscow a “hostile act” and said diplomatic channels must not be interrupted.
France said it deplored the Russian move as an unjustified response to what it said was its own decision in April to expel “several dozen Russian agents acting on our territory under diplomatic status and working against our security interests”.
(Writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)