Washington - Russia and neighboring Estonia, a member of the NATO military alliance, said Monday they are expelling each other's ambassadors by February 7 in a new display of rancor over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.
Both Russia and Estonia disparaged each other as they announced that their diplomatic missions in Moscow and Tallinn would be downgraded and headed by charge d'affaires instead of ambassadors.
The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned Estonian Ambassador Margus Laidre and ordered him to leave the country in two weeks. Moscow said it was expelling Laidre in retaliation of Estonia's "new unfriendly step to radically reduce the size of the Russian Embassy in Tallinn."
A view of the Russian embassy building in Tallinn, Estonia, Jan. 21, 2023.
In turn, Estonia said it was expelling Russian Ambassador Vladimir Lipayev.
Earlier this month, Estonia ordered Russia to cut its embassy staff in Tallinn to eight diplomats and 15 administrative, technical and service staff members in order to reach parity with the size of its staff in Moscow.
Estonia, once part of the Soviet Union, said January 11 it was reducing its bilateral relations with Moscow "to the absolute minimum" because of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine last February.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Monday that "the Estonian leadership has purposefully destroyed the entire range of relations with Russia."
'Total Russophobia, the cultivation of hostility towards our country have been elevated by Tallinn to the rank of state policy," the statement read.
It is the first time that Russia has expelled the ambassador of a European Union country since its invasion of Ukraine.
In October, Estonia's parliament adopted a statement declaring Russia a "terrorist regime."
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Meanwhile, Estonia, Latvia and their Baltic neighbor, Lithuania, have pushed for Germany to send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine to help fend off Russia's invasion.
Latvia had told its ambassador to Russia to leave Moscow by February 27. Lithuania threw out its Russian envoy in April and downgraded diplomatic representation after Ukraine accused Russian forces of killing civilians in the town of Bucha.