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Russia expels 4 Austrian diplomats in retaliatory move

Moscow has asked four Austrian diplomats to leave Russia in retaliation for the expulsion earlier this month of four Russian diplomats from Vienna.

Austria had accused the Russian diplomats of spying, and Chancellor Karl Nehammer on Friday defended their Feb. 2 expulsion. He said Austria would not watch idly “while espionage occurs in our country and hospitality is abused.”

In announcing the expulsion of the Austrian diplomats on Thursday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry called the earlier act by Austria “unfriendly and unreasonable,” calling into question Austria’s “previously positioning itself as an unbiased and neutral state.”

Nehammer rejected the claim that Austria isn’t neutral anymore.

Western European nations and Russia have expelled each others’ diplomats on several occasions following the Russian military operation in Ukraine that started nearly a year ago. Austria, a European Union member that has a policy of military neutrality, was initially hesitant to take such action, but expelled four Russian diplomats in April after pressure from the public and EU partners.

The Russian diplomats had been given a week to leave Austria. Russia said the Austrian diplomats had until Feb. 23 to go.

Moscow also said Vienna was making it difficult for Russian officials to obtain visas, “which contradicts Austria’s obligations as a venue for international meetings.”

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