Russia expels Swedish diplomats in retaliation for ‘hostile actions’

Moscow on Tuesday said it was expelling three Swedish diplomats after Stockholm expelled three Russian diplomats over the conflict in Ukraine, despite Sweden saying four were dismissed.

Russia expels Swedish diplomats in retaliation for 'hostile actions'
Sweden's embassy in Moscow back in 2008. Photo: Denghu/Wikimedia Commons

Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement it summoned the Swedish ambassador to Russia and “strongly protested” the expulsion of Russian diplomats and Sweden’s “military support to the Kyiv regime”.

It also accused Sweden of “covering up the crimes of Ukrainian nationalists against the civilian population of Donbas and Ukraine,” referring to a region in eastern Ukraine, parts of which are controlled by pro-Russia separatists.

“In response to this, the Russian side decided to declare persona non grata three diplomats of the Swedish embassy in Russia,” the ministry said.

In early April, Sweden said it was expelling three Russian diplomats who conducted “illegal operations”, following similar moves by other EU allies.

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde said the action was “very regrettable,” but said that a total of four diplomats had been expelled — three from the embassy in Moscow and another at the Swedish consulate in Saint Petersburg.

In a written response to AFP, Linde stressed that Sweden expelled the Russians because they had conducted operations that “violated the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations,” but claimed the Swedish diplomats had conducted “traditional diplomatic activities.”

“Sweden will respond in an appropriate manner to Russia’s unwarranted and disproportionate actions,” Linde said.

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INTERVIEW: ‘Nato will process a Swedish application quickly’

Sweden will submit a Nato application by June, and the alliance and its member states will then move rapidly to approve it, says Gunilla Herolf, from the Swedish Institute of International Affairs.

INTERVIEW: 'Nato will process a Swedish application quickly'

Gunilla Herolf, Senior Associate Research Fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, spoke to Paul O’Mahony for The Local’s Sweden in Focus podcast, which is out on Saturday. 

She said that she now believed that it was now “very likely” that Sweden will apply to join the Nato security alliance in the next few months. 

“All indications are in this direction now,” she said. “Everyone assumes that Finland will now apply for Nato membership, and they would very much like Sweden to join them in this application. I don’t think anyone doubts that this will be the case.” 

She said that there was a growing consensus in Swedish foreign policy circles that Sweden’s application will come in June, either before or at Nato’s Madrid summit on June 29th-June 30th. 

“There are also internal reasons why Sweden would like to have it before the summer, and that is the upcoming election,” she said. “The Social Democrats would not like the issue to be part of the discussions preceding the election. So they are the crucial Party right now. And for them, this is important.” 

While other parties might prefer a long-drawn-out process for election purposes, their historic support for Nato membership would probably overweigh this, she argued. 

While there are still those within the Social Democratic party who are uncomfortable with Nato membership (with the youth party recently saying it preferred to root Sweden’s security within the European Union),  Herolf said she thought the party leadership would be able to bring the grassroots on board. 

“That is the big question. I think they will. But I don’t think they will have an easy discussion,” she said. “We saw that the young social democrats would prefer the EU, which is a bit strange, I think because the EU has no military capabilities at all. But they will probably change I think.” 

READ ALSO: KEY DATES: The likely timetable for how Sweden could join Nato 

Once Sweden’s application is in, Herolf said she expected Nato, as an organisation, would move “quite rapidly”. 

“We have got strong signals that this would be a quick operation when it comes to interoperability and other issues that Sweden already fulfills,” she said. 

The next stage of the process, winning the support of the 30 member states and their parliaments, was more unpredictable.

“I’m sure that the very large majority would support us, because we are not problematic countries, either Sweden or Finland. But you’ll never know in such circumstances,” she said. “There might be countries who would like to draw some extra benefits in an issue that doesn’t have to be related to this at all, and who, therefore, prolong the application process a bit. But I don’t think it will happen, or not for too long.”

During and after Sweden’s accession, Herolf said that she expected Russia to make its displeasure felt through tough rhetoric, and also other measures, such as air incursions, cyber attacks, and sowing propaganda. 

“I guess they will make some kind of cyber attack against us. This is an easy thing for them to do. It’s fairly easy for us to meet as well. It will take maybe a week,” Herolf said. 

But she said she did not believe it would risk a military attack. 

“I would say, ‘no, generally’, because Russia would know that the possibility of Nato having a strong response to anything militarily happening to Sweden.” 

READ ALSO: Sweden’s PM on Nato: “I see no point in delaying the process”

Once Sweden joins Nato, Herolf said she expected the country to play a similar role to that played by Denmark and Norway. 

“They are active in policing the airspace of the three Baltic countries, protecting their borders by fighter jets, and also Poland gets some help, especially from Denmark.  Iceland also gets the help, since they don’t have any military forces themselves. 

“Sweden might also be asked if we would like to help out with sending units, maybe to Romania or somewhere. There will be an additional strengthening of Nato’s borders and all Nato countries are supposed to help out.”