The expert: Russian move “no surprise”

Five Swedish diplomats are expelled from Russia and the Swedish consulate in Saint Petersburg is closed, according to the Russian news agency TASS. A political move that comes as no surprise, according to Maria Engqvist, deputy project manager and analyst in the Russia Project, FOI, at the unit for Security Policy.
The situation reflects the bad relations. This is how it looks with many other Western countries as well, relations are very bad with Russia, she says.

On April 25, five Russian diplomats were expelled from Sweden, suspected of espionage. Then a Russian diplomat promised a backlash. Now, exactly one month later, the Tass news agency states that Russia is expelling five Swedish diplomats as an act of revenge.

– Sweden expelled diplomats from the country a couple of weeks ago and Russia’s actions now are quite expected. They have already announced that they will take action and now we will see it, so it will not come as a surprise. Practically, this means a loss of personnel that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will have to deal with, the ministry has established routines for this type of situation, says Maria Engqvist.

According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the Swedish consulate in Saint Petersburg and the Russian consulate general in Gothenburg are to be closed on September 1. It will complicate Sweden’s already strained relationship with Russia, according to Engqvist.

– The situation reflects the bad relations. That’s how it looks for many Western countries too, relations are very bad with Russia. So it will be more difficult to conduct business in the country, she says.

The situation may worsen

The new Russian announcement to declare five Swedish diplomats as persona non grata may appear aggressive. But according to Engqvist, there are several tools in the Russian box that can be used to make Sweden’s work in Russia more difficult.

– Russia has great opportunities to make life difficult for the embassies. There are lots of different tools, legal and financial, that they can use to make the business more difficult. It is no secret that Russia may have some sort of interest in making relations and our work difficult in various ways – and they certainly perceive it as us making it difficult for them, she says.

One example is the Russian treatment of the Finnish embassy and its staff in Russia.

– The Finnish embassy has an even more pressing situation, where Russia has frozen their bank accounts, she says.

The question of when the Russian deportation order will be enforced is still unclear, but according to Engqvist, it often happens quickly.

– It depends on which regulations apply in the individual case. In some cases 24 hours – in some up to a week.