MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russia expelled an Estonian diplomat on Wednesday after accusing him of spying and gave him 48 hours to leave the country, dealing a fresh setback to Moscow’s already strained relations with the European Union.
Estonia on Tuesday accused Russia of briefly detaining Mart Latte, one of its St Petersburg-based consuls, after a “set-up” it said was designed to falsely make him look like a spy.
Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday announcing Latte’s expulsion that it did not believe the denials and summoned an Estonian diplomat in Moscow to protest over activity it said was incompatible with diplomacy.
Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said a day earlier it had detained Latte after he was “caught red handed” receiving confidential information from a Russian citizen.
“We stressed that we consider Tallinn’s official position to be extremely cynical since there is incontrovertible evidence of the illegal activities of this Estonian ‘diplomat’,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Russia’s relations with several European countries have been strained in recent months by a number of spying accusations against Russian diplomats in Europe. Italy, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Romania are among the EU countries with which Moscow has exchanged tit-for-tat expulsions.
In April, Russia’s embassy in Estonia, a NATO member, called the expulsion of one of its diplomats by Tallinn an unfriendly and groundless move against Moscow.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Writing by Alexander MarrowEditing by Andrew Osborn)