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Newsline: Estonia’s top diplomat denies plans to close Russian embassy

Estonia has no plans to expel all Russian diplomats or close the Russian embassy, Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said. “Though both Estonia and Russia have taken steps to reduce the numbers of diplomats in their countries, there are currently no plans to expel or recall all diplomats from both countries,” the ERR news website quoted Reinsalu as saying. “Our embassy [in Moscow] will stay. We have no plans to liquidate the Russian embassy on the territory of Estonia, and Russia has not voiced such intentions either,” the minister said. (https://interfax.com/newsroom/top-stories/87249/) There is now no point in speaking about the termination of diplomatic relations between the two countries, “because Estonia needs its representation in Moscow for pragmatic reasons,” he said.

Newsline: Incoming U.S. ambassador to Moscow met Russian envoy in Washington

The incoming U.S. ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy has held a meeting on Tuesday with Moscow’s top envoy in Washington DC Anatoly Antonov, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said. Tracy, a veteran U.S. career diplomat, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in December. She will depart for Russia in coming days and should be in place later this month, Price said. He declined to detail what the two envoys have discussed but said they did not talk about “any form of negotiated settlements” over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “She’s currently in the process of having consultations with desks and individuals here in Washington and in this case, she had an opportunity to have a discussion with Ambassador Antonov,” Price said. “We have been clear about our desire to maintain open channels of communication with Russia. We have an embassy in Moscow, it’s under duress because of the pressure and the limitations that the Kremlin has imposed on it,” he said. (https://neuters.de/world/us/incoming-us-envoy-moscow-met-russian-counterpart-washington-state-dept-says-2023-01-24/) Tracy, who served as a U.S. diplomat in Central Asia and was the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Moscow between 2014-2017, heads to Moscow at a time when the bilateral relationship between the two countries have plunged to depths not seen since the Cold War. As bilateral ties have deteriorated, Washington and Moscow has also been in a dispute over staffing of their embassies in each other’s capital, each criticizing the other for imposing restrictions.

Newsline: South Africa’s top diplomat defends planned military drills with Russia and China

South Africa’s foreign minister deflected criticism of joint military drills planned with Russia and China, saying that hosting such exercises with “friends” was the “natural course of relations.” (https://neuters.de/world/africa/russias-lavrov-visits-ally-south-africa-amid-western-rivalry-2023-01-23/) Naledi Pandor made her comments during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was visiting South Africa 11 months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A South African official, who declined to be identified because they were not authorised to speak, said Lavrov would afterwards visit Eswatini, Botswana and Angola. In Washington, the White House expressed worry about South Africa’s military plans.

Newsline: Latvia, Estonia expel Russian ambassadors

NATO and EU members Estonia and Latvia told their Russian ambassadors to leave after Moscow said it was downgrading diplomatic relations with Estonia, accusing it of “total Russophobia.” 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. Latvia, in solidarity with Estonia, told its Moscow envoy to leave by Feb. 27, according to a tweet by Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics. Both countries said they are downgrading their diplomatic ties with Russia to charge d’affairs level. (https://neuters.de/world/europe/russia-downgrades-relations-with-nato-member-estonia-expels-envoy-2023-01-23/) Lithuania threw out its Russian envoy in April and downgraded diplomatic representation.

Newsline: Russia expels Estonian ambassador

Russia said on Monday it was expelling Estonian ambassador and downgrading diplomatic relations with Estonia, accusing Tallinn of “total Russophobia”. 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. It said this was in response to an Estonian move 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.” (https://neuters.de/world/europe/russia-downgrades-relations-with-nato-member-estonia-expels-envoy-2023-01-23/) Estonia and its Baltic neighbours Latvia and Lithuania have been among a group of NATO allies arguing strongly for Germany to provide its Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine. Estonia joined other Ukrainian allies last week in sending more weapons of its own.

Newsline: Colombian intelligence reportedly spied on Russian and Cuban diplomats

Colombian intelligence carried out OUT surveillance operations against Russian and Cuban diplomats stationed in Colombia between 2016 and 2019, according to media reports that surfaced earlier this week. The reports claim that Colombia’s National Intelligence Directorate (DNI) was behind the operations, which involved physical, as well as electronic, surveillance. (https://intelnews.org/tag/russian-embassy-in-colombia/) One of the operations was reportedly codenamed CATEDRA, and targeted three senior staff members of the Russian embassy in the Colombian capital Bogota. In addition to the diplomats themselves, DNI agents allegedly spied on the diplomats’ spouses and their children. In some cases, DNI agents disguised themselves as “street vendors” in order to spy on the homes of the diplomats. The DNI also spied on at least 10 Cuban diplomats and other members of the embassy of Cuba in Bogota, according to the same reports. The operation, codenamed MATIAS, investigated alleged “Cuban interference” in Colombia, and took place while the Cuban government was hosting peace talks between the Colombian government of then-president Juan Manuel Santos and leaders of the country’s largest militant groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). According to the reports, the DNI recruited a Cuban embassy worker, instructing her to “install [surveillance] devices and extract information from the building where control targets [were] located”. This eventually enabled the DNI to gain “access to security cameras and rooms throughout the building” of the Cuban embassy, the reports claim. Operations MATIAS and CATEDRA were reportedly concluded in 2019.

Newsline: Canada summons Russian ambassador

Canada summoned Russia’s ambassador on Wednesday over an attack in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro, Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said. Officials summoned ambassador Oleg Stepanov to “make clear we do not accept the sheer brutality of Russia’s recent attacks against civilians in Dnipro,” Joly told reporters in Toronto. (https://neuters.de/world/europe/canada-summons-russian-ambassador-over-attacks-civilians-ukraine-2023-01-18/) Stepanov later said his discussions at the meeting focused on a “predictable line of overall Western propaganda” and that Moscow’s differences with Canada left little room for diplomacy.

Newsline: China’s ambassador to Moscow says Beijing ready for travel resumption with Russia

Russia and China are ready to resume mutual travel as soon as possible and deepen their strategic cooperation, Zhang Hanhui, China’s ambassador to Russia told the Russian state TASS news agency in remarks published on Wednesday. “In the new historical conditions, we are ready, together with our Russian friends, to continuously deepen comprehensive strategic cooperation, restore mutual travel of citizens as soon as possible,” the agency cited the diplomat as saying. (https://neuters.de/world/china/russia-china-ready-quick-travel-resumption-tass-cites-chinese-envoy-2023-01-11/) China has ditched mandatory quarantines for arrivals and allowed travel to resume across its border with Hong Kong since Sunday, removing the last major restrictions under a “zero-COVID” regime which it abruptly began dismantling in early December after historic protests against the curbs.

Newsline: US ambassador to Russia to seek more staff to provide visa services

New US Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy will aim to expand staff at the US Embassy in Moscow so it can improve performance including potentially resume visa issuance, US State Department Spokesman Ned Price said. “Her focus will be to provide leadership to the embassy to maintain this bilateral relationship in a period of extraordinarily heightened tensions and to work with the Russian government to improve staffing at the US Embassy platform, so that our embassy can perform basic functions, like potentially even visa issuance,” he said at a news conference. (https://tass.com/world/1559373) “We believe it’s in the interests of both our countries, in the United States and in Russia, to have fully effective, functioning missions in our respective countries, including the ability to provide visa services,” Price said.

Newsline: Former U.S. ambassador to Russia rejoins law firm

John Sullivan, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia during the Trump and Biden administrations, has rejoined law firm Mayer Brown to co-lead its national security practice. Sullivan, who was also a top U.S. State Department official under then-President Donald Trump and at one point served as acting Secretary of State, is now a partner at the 1,700-lawyer Mayer Brown, the firm said. (https://neuters.de/legal/government/former-russian-ambassador-rejoins-mayer-brown-law-firm-2023-01-05/) Sullivan exited his diplomatic role in Moscow in September. He said Mayer Brown was the only firm he seriously considered joining, after previously practicing there on and off since 1993. He will be based out of the Chicago-founded firm’s Washington, D.C., and New York offices, but said he plans to mainly work in D.C.