By Joanna Plucinska and Andrius Sytas
WARSAW/VILNIUS (Reuters) – Russian diplomat Sergiy Andreev felt unwelcome on the streets of Warsaw even before protesters sprayed him with red liquid thrown in his face from a short distance this week.
Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Andreev, who is Moscow’s ambassador to Poland, discovered that the embassy’s bank accounts had been frozen. Attempts to meet Polish officials for any level of diplomatic discussion were impossible, he said.
His usual hairdresser refused to cut his hair. Insurance companies refused to cover embassy cars, Andreev said.
“We are practically isolated,” he told Reuters, ahead of Monday’s painting incident.
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In all European capitals, Russian diplomats are being abused, ranging from diplomatic expulsions by governments to protests by individual citizens and denials of service by companies.
European Union governments expelled at least 400 Russian diplomats and support staff. Warsaw took over a building linked to the Russian embassy, and Oslo renamed a street in front of the Russian mission “Ukraine Square”.
Russia’s 10-week bombardment of Ukraine has killed thousands, driven more than a quarter of the population from their homes and destroyed towns. Europeans largely see it as an unprovoked attack by President Vladimir Putin, who says what he calls a special military operation has been launched to defend Russia.
Western countries responded by arming the Ukrainian military and imposing sweeping sanctions on Russia’s elites and financial system.
The diplomats’ tribulations are not comparable to the destruction of war or the broader Western response, but they are a vivid example of the depth of sentiment against the invasion and have touched Moscow.
Public protests have prompted the Russian Foreign Ministry to warn diplomats to think twice when venturing out, after embassies were defaced with red paint in Rome, Sofia and Prague. In London, protesters piled kitchen utensils and appliances outside the Russian mission in April, in reference to reports of Russian looting in Ukraine.
“There are attacks, practically terrorist acts against our institutions and against the physical safety of diplomats,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Rossiya 24 television.
“Now we don’t recommend that they go out” alone, Lavrov said, calling the anti-Russian atmosphere stoked by the West discriminatory.
In Poland, Andreev was at the Soviet military cemetery in Warsaw on Monday to lay flowers on the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany when he was surrounded by protesters – some holding Ukrainian flags and chanting “fascists”. to the Russian delegation – in front of a woman threw a lumpy red liquid on her face.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said it had lodged a strong protest with Polish authorities, whom it accused of “virtually conniving” with the protesters. Speaking to Reuters in April, Andreev said Poland had breached the Vienna Convention which specifies rules for hosting diplomats. The embassy did not provide further comment after Monday’s painting protest.
The Polish Foreign Ministry called the incident regrettable, saying in a statement that “diplomats enjoy special protection, regardless of the policies pursued by the governments they represent.”
Swiss police told Reuters last month that there had been “expressions of discontent, threats and property damage towards the Russian embassy”, and police made unspecified security adjustments. In Bucharest, a driver died after ramming his car into the door of the Russian Embassy on April 6.
As in Warsaw, the Russian embassy in Paris is cash-strapped, with Moscow ordering diplomats to cut spending to a minimum, according to a diplomatic source from a country that has not imposed sanctions on Russia and continues to engage with the embassy. The embassy declined to comment.
In Lithuania, two major banks have or will cut off money transfers to and from Russia and Belarus, and, as in Poland, insurance companies have refused to insure embassy cars.
“They don’t insure damage for the Russian Embassy,” said Andrius Romanovskis, president of the Lithuanian Association of Insurers. “I understand that these decisions are not commercial in nature, but have to do with reputational and moral choices.”
The Russian embassy in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, confirmed his troubles.
“The embassy has recently faced a number of problems in the banking and insurance sector, as well as some companies’ compliance with their obligations under existing contracts,” press secretary Alexander Kudryavtsev said.
The Czech capital, Prague, has changed the name of the Embassy Street to “Ukrainian Heroes Street”, while the district where the Russian Embassy is located has requested that a Russian school building, unused since the Czechs have expelled dozens of Russian diplomats, or made available to Ukrainian refugee children.
The measures prompted retaliation from an increasingly isolated Russia, which expelled an unknown number of European diplomats.
The Polish Foreign Ministry said streets had been dug around its embassy in Moscow and the work of the embassy and its consulates was “restricted in every way by the Russian side”.
The Russian Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Andrius Sytas; Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris, Jan Lopatka in Prague, Guy Faulconbridge in London, Terje Solsvik in Oslo, Michael Shields in Zurich, Angelo Amante in Rome; Writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)
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