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France summons Russian envoy after deaths of 2 aid workers in Ukraine

UPI
French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne (pictured) summoned Russian envoy Alexeï Mechkov to Elysee Palace on Monday to reiterate his "strong condemnation" of the deaths of two French humanitarian aid workers during a Russian strike in Ukraine last week. File Photo by Tarek Wajeh/EPA-EFE

Feb. 5 (UPI) -- France on Monday summoned the Russian ambassador in the wake of the deaths of two French humanitarian aid workers during a Russian drone attack on Ukraine last week.

A spokesman for the French foreign ministry told reporters that Alexeï Mechkov, Russia's envoy to Paris, would be summoned to Elysee Palace on Monday, at which time France would "reiterate its strong condemnation of the Russian strikes" on Thursday on the Ukrainian city of Beryslav.

The drone strikes killed two French nationals working for a non-governmental humanitarian organization in Ukraine and injured three other French citizens.

Shortly after the incident, French President Emmanuel Macron called the strike a "cowardly and unworthy act," while Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said Russia would have to "answer for its crimes."

Russia's embassy in France later confirmed Monday's meeting had taken place.

In a statement, Moscow said no evidence was presented during the meeting that the French dead were indeed humanitarian workers. Mechkov, meanwhile, denounced what he called "the participation of French mercenaries in the criminal actions of the Kyiv regime."

The Kremlin has claimed French mercenaries are fighting alongside Ukrainian forces in the Kharkiv region where the aid workers were killed. Russia said 60 "mercenaries," mostly French, were killed in Kharkiv on Jan. 16 in an attack with high-precision weapons.

Following that incident, Moscow summoned French Ambassador to Moscow Pierre Levy to the Russian foreign ministry. Meanwhile, the State Duma, or Russian Legislature, passed a resolution urging the French National Assembly to denounce what the Russian lawmakers called "data confirmed by the competent authorities and the independent media on the participation of French mercenaries in hostilities on the territory of Ukraine on the side of the Nazi regime in Kyiv."

French counterintelligence officials told Le Monde the story of 60 slain mercenaries in Ukraine is likely a disinformation campaign orchestrated by the GRU, Russia's military intelligence arm, noting the claims came a day after Macron announced he was sending 40 long-range SCALP-EG missiles to Ukraine.