By Andrius Sytas
(Reuters) -NATO and EU members Estonia and Latvia told their Russian ambassadors to leave after Moscow said it was downgrading diplomatic relations with Estonia, accusing it of "total Russophobia."
Estonia, Latvia and their Baltic neighbour Lithuania have been among a group of NATO allies arguing strongly for Germany to provide its Leopard battle tanks to boost Ukraine in fighting off Russia's invasion.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said it had told the Estonian envoy he must leave next month, and both countries would be represented in each other's capitals by an interim charge d'affaires instead of an ambassador.
Estonia responded in kind, telling the Russian envoy to leave by Feb. 7, Foreign Affairs Minister Urmas Reinsalu said.
"We will continue to support Ukraine as Russia is planning large-scale attacks, and we call on other like-minded countries to increase their assistance to Ukraine," Reinsalu said in a statement.
Latvia, in solidarity with Estonia, told its Moscow envoy to leave by Feb. 27, according to a tweet by Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics. Both countries said they are downgrading their diplomatic ties with Russia to charge d'affairs level.
Lithuania threw out its Russian envoy in April and downgraded diplomatic representation, after Ukraine accused Russian forces of killing civilians in the town of Bucha.
Moscow said Monday's move was in response to an Estonian decision to reduce the size of the Russian embassy in Tallinn.
"In recent years, the Estonian leadership has purposefully destroyed the entire range of relations with Russia. Total Russophobia, the cultivation of hostility towards our country have been elevated by Tallinn to the rank of state policy," it said.
Commenting on the downgrading of ties, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: "The Estonian regime has got what it deserved."
Estonia told Russia on Jan. 11 to reduce the number of diplomats at its embassy in Tallinn to eight, equivalent to the number of Estonian diplomats in Moscow.
All three Baltic countries joined some other Western allies last week in sending more weapons of its own to Ukraine.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Gareth Jones and Mark Porter)