MOSCOW – Russia on Wednesday declared Mart Latte, consul of the Estonian Consulate General in St. Petersburg, persona non grata and ordered him to leave the Russian territory within 48 hours, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova was quoted by Interfax as saying.
"Estonian charge d'affaires ad interim to Russia Ulla Uibo was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry on July 7. Russia declared its strong protest over the collection of intelligence incompatible with diplomatic status by consul Mart Latte of the Estonian Consulate General in St. Petersburg," Zakharova said in a statement published on the ministry's website.
"Said official of the Estonian consular mission has been declared persona non grata and must leave the Russian Federation's territory within 48 hours," she said.
As regards the Estonian Foreign Ministry's comment that the detention of Latte was "illegal and provocative" and the accusations against him "unfounded", Zakharova said that the Estonian charge d'affaires ad interim had been told that "such attempts to misrepresent the situation are unacceptable".
"We emphasized that we consider the official position of Tallinn to be extremely cynical, as there is irrefutable evidence of the illegal activities of the Estonian diplomat who, as we know, was detained at the time while receiving classified information from a Russian citizen," Zakharova said.
The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) on Wednesday said that Estonian consul Mart Latte had been detained while trying to receive classified information from a Russian citizen.
FSB said on its website that the detainee's activities did not coincide with his diplomatic status and were clearly hostile to the Russian Federation.
"Measures shall be taken in respect of the foreign diplomat in accordance with the rules of international law," FSB said.
The Estonian Foreign Ministry called Latte's detention "a show" and a provocation. Ministry spokesperson Aari Lemmik said on Tuesday that FSB accused Latte of acquiring sensitive documents.
She called the accusations completely unfounded and described the detention as a provocation by the Russian authorities.
"The activities of the FSB are a setup, the accusations are unfounded. This is another example of Russia's lack of interest in friendly relations with neighboring countries," Lemmik said.
Chairman of the Estonian parliament's foreign affairs committee Marko Mihkelson also said that the consul's detention was premeditated provocation and added that if Latte is expelled from Russia, Estonia should make a similar step in response.
Since the beginning of the year, Russia and Western countries have repeatedly expelled each other's diplomats and accused each other of espionage.
In April, Russia expelled a Ukrainian diplomat from St. Petersburg, who, according to the FSB, had also tried to receive classified materials from a Russian citizen.
That same month, Moscow expelled four diplomats of the Baltic states. It was a mirror measure in response to the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Central and Eastern Europe.