The Biden administration’s expulsion of ten Russian diplomats on Thursday brought about a tit-for-tat response from Moscow almost immediately. Now, it appears the move and countermove have set off a string of similar actions between Russia and Ukraine, as well as a growing number of other European countries.
The exchange between Ukraine and Russia has come about because of events in St Petersburg on Friday. Alexander Sosonyuk, Ukraine’s consul in St. Petersburg was accused of receiving classified information and was taken into custody by the FSB (Federal Security Bureau) on Friday. There has been no explanation of exactly what type of classified information Sosonyuk was allegedly found in possession of. Later in the day, the Russian foreign ministry informed the Ukrainian government that Sosonyuk must leave the country by Thursday. The Ukrainian foreign ministry responded by announcing that a senior Russian diplomat will be expelled from Ukraine on Monday.
Fresh on the heels of that, the Czech Republic today announced the expulsion of 18 Russian embassy officials linked to an ammunition depot explosion in 2014. Prime Minister Andrej Babis said earlier today that Czech intelligence agencies have provided him with clear evidence about the involvement of Russian embassy officials in the blast that killed two people. While the expulsion of diplomats suspected to be intelligence officers is nothing new, the timing of the Czech move raises an eyebrow. With so many nations directly or otherwise involved in the Ukraine crisis now trading PNG (persona non grata) declarations, one has to wonder where it will all end. Also, these moves will adversely affect tensions in the region over the coming days.
On the diplomatic front, expect to see more expulsions also in the next few days. For what it’s worth, don’t be surprised if Belarus, or another Russian ally steps up and declares a number of Western diplomats to be declared persona non grata. That’s how the game is played.