Russia and Estonia on Monday were expelling the ambassadors from each other’s countries in a tit-for-tat move, saying that their diplomatic missions will be headed by charges d’affaires as relations between the countries sank to a new low over Ukraine.
In a show of solidarity with its Baltic neighbour, Latvia announced that it would also downgrade diplomatic relations with Moscow as of February 24, the date which marks the one-year anniversary of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned Estonian Ambassador Margus Laidre and ordered him to leave the country by February 7, the first time it has expelled an ambassador of a European Union country since the invasion of Ukraine began.
The statement issued by the ministry said that Estonia’s diplomatic representation from now on will be downgraded to a charge d’affaires that heads the EU country’s mission in Moscow.
“The Estonian leadership has purposefully destroyed the entire range of relations with Russia,” said the ministry, citing the Baltic nation’s “total Russophobia” following Tallinn’s recent decision to drastically reduce staff levels at the Russian embassy.
The move was made in retaliation for Estonia’s “new unfriendly step”, the ministry added.
In response, Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said that the Russian ambassador will leave, in accordance with “the principle of parity”.
In a January 11 statement, Reinsalu outlined plans to ease relations with Russia “to the absolute minimum”.
Estonia is a staunch ally of Ukraine and has called for Western countries to send tanks to Kyiv to counter Moscow’s offensive. In October, its parliament adopted a statement declaring Russia a “terrorist regime”.
The Baltic country was once part of the Soviet Union and has had difficult relations with Russia for years.
Russia ordered the closure of Tallinn’s consulate in St Petersburg in April.__Al Jazeera