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Russia to close Finnish Consulate in St. Petersburg, expels diplomats

Russia has withdrawn consent for Finland to operate its consulate in St. Petersburg and expelled nine Finnish diplomats, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced Thursday.

The decision was announced just days before NATO heads of state and government gather in Vilnius, Lithuania, for the alliance’s annual summit, which is to be followed by a visit to Finland by President Biden. Moscow’s decision also follows by about a month Finland’s announcement that it would expel nine Russian diplomats.

Although the expulsion of diplomats — nine for nine — appears to be a tit-for-tat move, the closing of the Finnish Consulate in St. Petersburg, a city not far from the Russia-Finland border, suggests an escalation designed to get the attention of Helsinki — and Washington.

Announcing the news, Russia’s Foreign Ministry cast the apparently imminent closure of the consulate by Oct. 1 as a response to the Finnish expulsion of Russian diplomats and Finland’s recently joining NATO.

“The parameters of Finland’s accession to NATO that are being discussed now pose a threat to security of the Russian Federation, and encouragement of the Kyiv regime to go to war and pumping it with Western weapons means obviously hostile actions against our country,” the Russian statement said.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto tweeted that the measures are “a harsh and unsymmetrical response to Finland’s expulsion decisions.” He said Finland was preparing similar measures, noting that the counterpart to Finland’s consulate in St. Petersburg is the Russian consulate in the Finnish city of Turku.

After Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the previously nonaligned Finland sought NATO membership. It officially joined the alliance this spring and will be participating in the meeting in Vilnius as a full-fledged member.

Although Russia condemned Finland’s membership bid, diplomats and security officials say its response to the country’s accession has been muted, with rhetoric and vague threats but no immediate change in its military posture. Thursday’s moves also seem to be a bit of a show.

The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned Finnish Ambassador Antti Helantera on Thursday to present him with a note of protest, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a briefing. “He was presented with a resolute protest over the confrontational anti-Russian policy pursued by the Finnish authorities,” she said.

Helsinki’s policy, in particular, “is aimed at dismantling Russian-Finnish relations of mutually beneficial cooperation, which have been formed over decades, and rupturing multifaceted trade-related and economic and interregional interaction and direct contacts between citizens,” she said, adding that “a lot was said to the Finnish ambassador.”

St. Petersburg is Russia’s second largest city, the closest major one to Finland and has roughly the same population as that Nordic country at over 5 million inhabitants. With the high volume of trade and contacts between the two countries before the war in Ukraine, the consulate in St. Petersburg had been one of Finland’s busiest.


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