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UKRAINE

Spanish PM blasts Putin’s ‘atrocities’ during Ukraine visit

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez condemned Thursday the "atrocities" allegedly committed by Russian forces in the town of Borodyanka outside Kyiv during a visit to Ukraine with his Danish counterpart.

Spanish PM blasts Putin's 'atrocities' during Ukraine visit
Sánchez and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, along with international journalists and the Ukrainian military, in front of a destroyed building in the town of Borodyanka on April 21st. Screenshot: Pedro Sánchez/Twitter

“Shocked to witness the horror and atrocities of Putin’s war on the streets of Borodyanka,” Sánchez tweeted along with a video of his visit to the war-ravaged town.

“We will not leave the Ukrainian people alone,” he added.

The bodies of nine civilians, some showing signs of torture, were found Wednesday night in two graves around Borodyanka, a senior police official said.

The pullback of Russian forces from towns and villages around Kyiv left a trail of civilian deaths, beginning with discoveries in Bucha, that have led Ukrainian officials to accuse Russia of genocide.

Authorities in Kyiv say hundreds of bodies of  civilians have been found in areas controlled by Russian forces around the capital in the opening stages of the February 24 invasion.

Sánchez and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen arrived in Kyiv earlier on Thursday for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr  Zelensky, the Spanish government said in a statement.

Sánchez said on Wednesday he would convey to Zelensky the European Union and Spain’s “clear engagement… for peace”.

He said Spain would continue to work for an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine, while also sending “all the humanitarian and military aid needed” and taking in Ukrainian refugees.

Spain has taken in 134,000 Ukrainians, of whom 64,000 have received temporary protection, including accommodation and a work permit.

Madrid has sent about a dozen planes to Ukraine carrying “hundreds of tonnes” of weapons and humanitarian supplies, Defence Minister Margarita Robles said on Monday.

In another sign of support for Kyiv, Sanchez announced on Monday that Spain would reopen its embassy in the Ukrainian capital “in a few days’ time”.

The embassy suspended activity the day after the Russian invasion on February 24th for security reasons.

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UKRAINE

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.

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