No fewer than 40 Russian diplomats have been declared as “undesirable persons” by the German government.
The announcement made on Monday is an act that is tantamount to expulsion from the country, according to foreign minister Annalena Baerbock.
The decision follows similar moves by European partners in recent days as a reaction to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Shortly after the German announcement, France said it would expel 35 Russian diplomats as part of a joint European action. Earlier on Monday, Lithuania threw out its Russian ambassador.
Speaking as Russia faced growing global criticism over allegations that its forces had committed atrocities in Bucha, a town near Kyiv, Germany’s Baerbock said the move was a response to the “unbelievable brutality” the Kremlin had unleashed in Ukraine, Al Jazeera reports.
“The images from Bucha speak to unbelievable brutality by the Russian leadership and by those who follow its propaganda with a boundless will to exterminate,” Baerbock said.
Later on Monday, France announced it would expel dozens of Russian diplomats.
“France decided this evening to expel a number of Russian personnel with diplomatic status stationed in France whose activities are against our security interests,” the French foreign ministry said in a statement.
The Kremlin has denied Western allegations that Russian forces were responsible for killing civilians in Bucha.
However, Baerbock said “similar images” were to be feared “in other places that Russian troops have occupied.”
She said it was essential to “stand up for our freedom and be prepared to defend it”.
“That is why the German government has decided to declare a significant number of staff of the Russian embassy, who have worked every day here in Germany against our freedom, against the cohesion of our society, as persona non grata,” she said.
Baerbock described the diplomats’ presence “as a threat” to the more than 300,000 Ukrainians “who have sought protection here” since the invasion began.
“We will no longer tolerate that, we communicated that to the Russian ambassador this afternoon,” she said.
Baerbock said Germany would take further steps “with our partners” including “imposing harsher sanctions on Russia, decisively expanding support for Ukraine’s fighting forces and bolstering NATO’s eastern flank.”
The US and its allies have sought to punish Russia for the invasion by imposing sweeping sanctions but fear further harm to the global economy, which is still recovering from the pandemic. Europe is in a particular bind, since it gets 40 percent of its gas and 25 percent of its oil from Russia.
Putin’s February 24 invasion has left thousands of people dead, according to Ukrainian authorities, and forced more than 4 million Ukrainians to flee their country.
Putin has said the attack is aimed at eliminating a security threat and has demanded that Ukraine drop its bid to join NATO. Kyiv and its allies say the invasion is a war of aggression.