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Russia, Estonia expel envoys, downgrade relations

People walk past the Russian Foreign Ministry headquarters in Moscow on April 5, 2022. (ALEXANDER NEMENOV / AFP)

Russia said on Monday it was downgrading diplomatic relations with NATO member Estonia, accusing it of "total Russophobia", and Tallinn responded by telling Moscow's envoy to the Baltic nation to leave.

Estonia and its Baltic neighbors Latvia and Lithuania have been among a group of NATO allies arguing strongly for Germany to provide its Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said it had told the Estonian envoy he must leave next month, and both countries would be represented in each other's capitals by an interim charge d'affaires instead of an ambassador

The Russian Foreign Ministry said it had told the Estonian envoy he must leave next month, and both countries would be represented in each other's capitals by an interim charge d'affaires instead of an ambassador.

Estonia responded in kind, telling the Russian envoy to leave by Feb 7, Foreign Affairs Minister Urmas Reinsalu said.

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Estonia joined some other Western countries last week in sending more weapons of its own to Ukraine.

Moscow said Monday's move was in response to an Estonian decision to reduce the size of the Russian embassy in Tallinn.

"In recent years, 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," it said.

Commenting on the downgrading of ties, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: "The Estonian regime has got what it deserved."

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Estonia told Russia on Jan 11 to reduce the number of diplomats at its embassy in Tallinn to eight, equivalent to the number of Estonian diplomats in Moscow.

Last April, Lithuania threw out its Russian envoy and downgraded diplomatic representation to the level of charge d'affaires.