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Russia expels two Swedish diplomats - Stockholm

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia has expelled two Swedish diplomats from Moscow as part of a reciprocal move against Stockholm, Sweden said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova listens during the annual news conference of the Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (not pictured) in Moscow, Russia January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

Relations between the two countries have been strained in the last few years over Russia’s actions in Ukraine and sabre-rattling in the Baltic.

“Sweden has previously made the decision that one Russian diplomat would not have his visa renewed and following that, we have declined Russian applications for diplomatic visas,” a Swedish foreign ministry spokeswoman said.

“Russia has answered by asking two Swedish diplomats to leave Russia.”

The spokeswoman declined to give further details.

The ministry said in December that Moscow had asked one of its diplomats to leave Russia after Stockholm rejected two Russian applications for diplomatic visas.

Asked in Moscow whether the Kremlin had expelled two Swedish diplomats in response to Stockholm’s visa rejection, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the question did “not require us to comment”.

“Without getting into details, I can say that the answer is contained in the question,” TASS news agency quoted her as saying. “I am talking about the phrase ‘in response’,” she said, declining to provide further details.

In February, Sweden arrested a man on suspicion of spying and of having been recruited as an agent by a Russian intelligence officer working under diplomatic cover in Sweden.

The diplomat was still in the country in March and the Swedish Foreign Ministry called in the Russian ambassador to ask that he leave. The Foreign Ministry spokeswoman could not confirm whether the diplomat has since left.

Sweden was one the countries which expelled a Russian diplomat following the poisoning attack in Salisbury, England in March last year, which the European Union blamed on Moscow. Russia denies the charge.

Reporting by Christian Lowe in Moscow and by Simon Johnson in Stockholm; Writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Angus MacSwan