Two days after the world learned of wide-spread killings of Ukrainian civilians in the town of Bucha, EU countries have chosen to expel scores of Russian diplomats this week.
The outrage at images that have emerged showing dead bodies strewn across the streets of Bucha has resulted in palpable anger across the West, and since Monday 149 Russian diplomats have been told they are no longer welcome to stay by Government of Italy, France, Germany and elsewhere.
Malta’s recently appointed Foreign Affairs Minister, Ian Borg, has yet to communicate whether the country will be taking similar action.
When considering the total number of Russian diplomats and embassy workers that have been expelled since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine launched in end-February, the tally surpasses 250, international media reports say.
On Monday, Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said that 40 Russian embassy employees must leave the country, while intelligence sources reportedly warned that the diplomats were seen as a direct threat to Ukrainians living in Germany.
The expulsion has been described as a direct response to the killing of civilians in Bucha, a Ukrainian town northwest of Kyiv, which Germany and the US have described as war crimes. Ukrainian officials say the bodies of 410 civilians were recovered from the towns in the Kyiv area where Russian troops have now withdrawn.
This claim is being hotly contested by Russia, including on the Russian Embassy in Malta’s social media pages, claiming the bodies were staged and that Russia did not target any civilians.
On Tuesday, Spain became the latest country to announce the expulsion of Russian diplomats, saying 25, including embassy workers, would have to leave.
Addressing a special UN Security Council meeting on the atrocities in Bucha, Ukrainian PM Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned that worse crimes than those discovered are likely to be uncovered in other areas seized from Russian invaders.
In the quest to build support for an open investigation into the killings in Bucha, which Malta’s Foreign Minister has expressed support of, Mr Zelenskiy said:
“And this is only one town. One of many Ukrainian communities which the Russian forces managed to capture. Now, there is information that in Borodyanka and some other liberated Ukrainian towns, the number of casualties of the occupiers may be even much higher.
“They [Russia] will do dozens of stage interviews, re-edited recordings, and will kill people specifically to make it look like they were killed by someone else,” he said. “Probably, now the occupiers will try to hide the traces of their crimes. They did not do this in Bucha when they retreated. But in another area it is possible.”
In the meantime, the EU has proposed fresh sanctions via the European Commission over its invasion of Ukraine, including a ban on Russian coal and on Russian ships entering EU ports. It slo said the Commission was working on banning oil imports.
“We all saw the gruesome pictures from Bucha and other areas from which Russian troops have recently left. These atrocities cannot and will not be left unanswered,” the head of the EU’s executive, Ursula von der Leyen, said.
“The four packages of sanctions have hit hard and limited the Kremlin’s political and economic options. In view of events we need to increase our pressure further,” she said in a speech posted on Twitter.
She said the sanctions proposal include an EU ban on imports of coal from Russia worth €4 billion a year, and a full transaction ban on four big Russian banks – including the country’s second largest, VTB.
The EU will also ban Russian vessels and Russian-operated vessels from accessing EU ports, though there would be exemptions for agricultural and food products, humanitarian aid and energy.
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