Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said the expulsion of European diplomats from Russia for attending demonstrations in support of Alexei Navalny was further evidence Moscow was “turning its back on international law”.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said diplomats from Sweden and Poland in St Petersburg and from Germany in Moscow took part in “unlawful” rallies on January 23 in support of the jailed opposition leader.
Tens of thousands of people across Russia took to the streets that day to protest against the arrest of Mr Navalny, the Kremlin’s most prominent critic.
Mr Raab tweeted: “The expulsion of German, Polish and Swedish diplomats from Russia for simply doing their jobs is a crude attempt to distract from Russia’s targeting of opposition leaders, protesters and journalists.
“We stand in solidarity with our European friends in the face of this unjustified action.
“This is the latest in a series of actions, since the poisoning of Navalny, which shows the Russian government turning its back on international law.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called the expulsion “unjustified” following Moscow’s labelling of the diplomats as ”persona non grata” and telling them to leave the country “shortly”.
Mr Navalny, an anti-corruption investigator, was arrested on January 17 on returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have rejected the accusation.
On Tuesday, a Moscow court ruled that while in Germany, Mr Navalny violated probation terms of his suspended sentence from a 2014 money-laundering conviction and ordered him to serve two years and eight months in prison. The ruling prompted international outrage.