Spanish PM to travel to Kyiv ‘in coming days’

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez will travel to Kyiv "in the coming days,", a government spokeswoman said Tuesday without providing the exact date for security reasons.

Spanish PM to travel to Kyiv 'in coming days'
Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (C) delivers a speech during his visit of a reception centre for Ukrainian refugees in Barcelona. More than 4.5 million Ukrainians have fled their country; around 25,000 of them have come to Spain. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)

The announcement came a day after Spain said it would reopen its Ukrainian embassy in Kyiv “in a number of days”.

Sanchez “will travel to Kyiv in the coming days, you will understand that I can’t give you more information about the visit for security reasons,” government spokeswoman Isabel Rodriguez told a press conference.

“It is a way of showing our commitment to the Ukrainian people and government,” she added after a regular weekly cabinet meeting.

Sanchez is following in the footsteps of several other European leaders, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen, who have gone to Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion of the country in a show of support.

Spain is providing aid to Ukraine through military equipment, humanitarian aid and by welcoming tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees.

The country has so far sent 12 planes with tons of weapons and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles said Monday.

“We will send as many planes are as necessary,” she added.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky compared Russia’s devastating assault on his country to the Nazis’ 1937 bombing of the northern Spanish town of Guernica in an address to Spain’s parliament earlier this month.

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Russia expels dozens of Spanish and other European diplomats

Moscow on Wednesday kicked out 27 diplomats from Spain, as well as dozens more from France and Italy in retaliation for the expulsion of Russian diplomats from European countries as part of a joint action against Russia's campaign in Ukraine.

Russia expels dozens of Spanish and other European diplomats

Spain has lashed out at Russia for expelling 27 Spanish diplomats in what appeared to be a tit-for-tat response over a similar move by Madrid against Russian diplomats over the Ukraine conflict.

The employees of the Spanish embassy in Moscow and the Spanish Consulate General in Saint Petersburg “have been declared persona non grata” and will have seven days to leave Russia.

 “Russian authorities justify this decision on grounds of reciprocity for the expulsion of 27 Russian embassy officials in April. But that expulsion was based on justified security reasons, which are not present in this case,” a foreign ministry statement said.

The Spanish decision was taken in early April just days after dozens of bodies in civilian clothing were found on the streets of Bucha just outside Kyiv following the withdrawal of Russian troops, raising allegations of Russian war crimes.

At the time, the foreign ministry said it would expel the Russian diplomats on grounds they were “a threat to (Spain’s) interests and security”.

The Russian ambassador was not among those asked to leave.

The ministry told Spanish ambassador Marcos Gómez Martínez that the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Madrid “would have a negative impact on Russian-Spanish relations”.

Spain’s decision was part of a coordinated move across Europe that saw more than 200 Russian envoys sent home in 48 hours on grounds of alleged spying or “national security reasons” as outrage grew over the atrocities in Ukraine.

More European diplomats expelled

Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement it was expelling 34 “employees of French diplomatic missions” in Russia and gave them two weeks to leave the country.

Moscow made the announcement after summoning France’s ambassador to Russia, Pierre Levy, and telling him that the expulsion of 41 employees of Russian diplomatic missions was a “provocative and unfounded decision”, the statement said.

While there was no official statement, the foreign ministry’s spokeswoman Maria Zakharova confirmed to Russian news agencies that 24 Italian diplomats had also been expelled.

The foreign ministry in Paris said France “strongly condemns” the expulsion of its diplomats by Russia, adding that this step from Moscow had “no legitimate basis”.

It said the work of French diplomats in Russia “takes place fully within the framework of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic and consular relations” — whereas Paris expelled Russian staff in April on suspicion of being spies.

‘Hostile act’

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi condemned the expulsions as a “hostile act” but said diplomatic channels must remain open “because it’s through those channels that, if possible, peace (in Ukraine) will be achieved”.

Separately, municipal lawmakers in Moscow on Wednesday backed a decision to name a previously unnamed area in front of the US embassy in Moscow “Donbas Defenders Square”.

The name refers to a majority Russian-speaking region in eastern Ukraine that Russia says it is liberating as part of its military campaign.

In February 2018, a street outside the Russian embassy in Washington was named after Boris Nemtsov, an opposition politician who was shot dead outside the Kremlin in 2015.

President Vladimir Putin in late February sent troops into Ukraine, saying the campaign aimed to stop the “genocide” of Russian speakers in the pro-Western country.

In response Moscow has faced a barrage of international sanctions and growing isolation from the global community as relations with the West deteriorate to Cold War levels.