BERLIN — The German and French governments announced Monday that they will expel a number of Russian embassy staff following reports of atrocities in the Ukrainian city of Bucha.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock cited the reports from Bucha directly as a reason for the expulsions, saying it highlighted the Kremlin’s “unbelievable brutality,” and that “we must counter this inhumanity with the strength of our freedom and our humanity.”
“The government has therefore decided today to declare undesirable a significant number of members of the Russian embassy who have worked here in Germany every day against our freedom, against the cohesion of our society,” Baerbock said, adding that she had informed the Russian ambassador that “we will not tolerate this any longer.”
A spokesman for the French foreign ministry did not mention Bucha in an official statement, but said France would expel “many” Russian diplomatic personnel “whose activities are contrary to our security interests.”
After Ukrainians reclaimed towns like Bucha around Kyiv from Russian troops, officials and NGOs reported over the weekend that Russian forces had massacred and raped civilians, releasing graphic images that have been condemned internationally.
Baerbock vowed that sanctions against Moscow would be ramped up in response.
“We will continue to tighten existing sanctions against Russia, we will decisively increase our support to Ukrainian armed forces, and we will also strengthen NATO’s eastern flank,” she said.
The reports from Bucha have ratcheted up the debate within Germany about whether the country should end Russian energy imports completely and immediately to hurt the Kremlin financially and send a clear sign of support to Ukraine — a move demanded both by Kyiv and neighboring Poland.
However, Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Economy Minister Robert Habeck have so far warned that making a rash decision could trigger a massive recession in Europe and could do more harm than good for all sides, although many economists and other politicians disagree.
Earlier on Monday, Habeck announced that the German subsidiary of Russian gas company Gazprom would temporarily be put under state control in a further escalation of the energy conflict surrounding the war in Ukraine.
“The government is doing what is necessary to ensure security of supply in Germany — this includes not exposing energy infrastructures in Germany to arbitrary decisions by the Kremlin,” Habeck said.
Also on Monday, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier for the first time publicly said that Berlin had made a mistake by sticking to the controversial Russian gas pipeline project Nord Stream 2 for so long. Scholz reversed course on the pipeline in February just days before Russia invaded Ukraine, and the project is now dead.
“We held on to bridges that Russia no longer believed in and that our partners warned us about,” Steinmeier said.
Giorgio Leali contributed reporting.