France and the Russian Federation at the end of last year expelled from their capitals one diplomat of the other side. The Russian was suspected of espionage. This was reported by the French edition Les Echos. The expulsions were carried out quietly. The Russian Foreign Ministry and the French Embassy in Moscow refused to confirm or deny this information to Kommersant.
The mutual expulsion of diplomats was reported at the end of this week by the French edition of Les Echos. ““ No comment ”is the whole commentary provided by the French Embassy in Moscow. But from reliable sources Les Echos learned that one of the heads of the economic department of the Russian embassy in Paris was caught at the moment of committing an act of espionage, the newspaper writes. “France expelled him. Russia took a symmetrical step, sending, in turn, one of the diplomats of the economic department of the French embassy in Moscow. There was no public announcement of this exchange of expelled diplomats. “
The French embassy in Moscow told Kommersant the same thing as the newspaper Les Echos: “No comments”. Nor could the Russian Foreign Ministry comment on the publication of the French media.
As the newspaper notes, at present, France and Russia “are trying to maintain at least outwardly good relations, despite the renewed increase in tension after the alleged poisoning of Alexei Navalny, a leader of the anti-Kremlin opposition.”
Indeed, at the February virtual session of the Munich Security Conference, French President Emmanuel Macron was the only speaker from Western states and organizations to call for dialogue with Russia. “We need to together rebuild the architecture of common security, which should include, among other things, a dialogue with Russia,” the president said. “This dialogue should be demanding, but it is a prerequisite for peace in Europe.” Despite the tense political situation, the possibility of a visit to the Russian Federation of the French president remains – this information was confirmed at the end of January by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, and then, in an interview with RIA Novosti, by French Ambassador to Moscow Pierre Levy.
Let us recall that the expulsion of diplomats is one of the tools of diplomatic practice. According to the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the receiving State “may at any time, without being obliged to give reasons for its decision, notify the sending State that the head of the mission or any member of the diplomatic staff of the mission is persona non grata or that any other member of the staff representation is unacceptable. ” In this case, the other side must recall the diplomat from the embassy, and usually the employees of the diplomatic missions leave for their homeland, but then they can continue their career in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or in missions in other countries.
«It happens in different ways, but in general it used to be customary to do it discretely, without attracting attention, “one of the interlocutors, who is closely familiar with diplomatic practice, explained to Kommersant.” Perhaps, both sides did not want to wash dirty linen in public, given that the relationship between the two countries, despite the kind words, very tense. “
In recent years, the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Western countries or vice versa (with subsequent “symmetric measures” of the other side) has often been in the center of attention of politicians and journalists. The most massive scandal was the announcement by the United States on December 29, 2016 of the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats: later Russia announced the need to reduce the number of employees of the US diplomatic mission from 755 to 455 (to the number of employees of the Russian diplomatic mission in the United States). Often, such stories are commented personally by the top officials of the countries. For example, in June 2020, the expulsion of two Russians was announced personally by the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic Andrei Babis and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Tomas Petříček.
In 2018, Britain expelled two dozen Russian diplomats at once after the Salisbury incident, and a number of other countries, including France, joined in solidarity – it expelled four people. Moscow responded, among other measures, by announcing that four French diplomats would leave Russia. And this was the only such public case in the Russian-French diplomatic practice of recent years.