Russia says Western envoys at Navalny funeral meddling in Russia

Libya summit in Berlin

By Guy Faulconbridge

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia on Tuesday accused Western ambassadors in Moscow of meddling in Russia's internal affairs by attending the funeral of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, saying their behaviour raised questions about the point of such envoys.

The Ukraine war has triggered the deepest crisis in Russia's relations with the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and President Vladimir Putin has warned that the West risks provoking a nuclear war if it sends troops to fight in Ukraine.

Russia was dismayed by what Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on March 4 was a refusal by European Union ambassadors to meet him for a conversation ahead of Russia's March 15-17 presidential election.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, remarking on the envoys' refusal, told Russian state television anchor Vladimir Solovyov: "The question indeed arises among everyone: what are they doing and why, how do they interpret their conduct on the territory of our country if they do not perform their most important function?"

Solovyov noted that EU ambassadors attended the March 1 funeral of Navalny, whom he cast as their agent.

Navalny, whose death at an Arctic prison colony was announced on Feb. 16, has always denied being a Western agent. The West says Putin is responsible for Navalny's death.

Zakharova said the envoys' refusal to talk with Lavarov showed they were meddling in Moscow's affairs and putting on "performances" rather than doing diplomatic work.

The banner headline on Solovyov's TV show read: "Should the EU ambassadors be sent out?"

Reuters photos showed that the Western envoys at the funeral service included French Ambassador Pierre Levy, German Ambassador Alexander Graf Lambsdorff and U.S. Ambassador Lynne Tracy.


The West is grappling with what support it will give to Kyiv as Russian forces regained the initiative on the battlefield following a failed Ukrainian counteroffensive last year.

Russian media last week published an audio recording of a meeting of senior German military officials held by Webex discussing weapons for Ukraine and a potential strike by Kyiv on a bridge in Crimea.

Russia said it presented a "demarche" to Germany's ambassador on Monday, demanding clarification on the content of the recording. Germany said the envoy was not summoned but attended an pre-arranged appointment.

Germany's envoy was also scolded over what Moscow said were attempts to restrict the activities of Russian journalists in Germany, according to the Russian foreign ministry.

"If they touch Russian correspondents and bring their plans to conclusion, German journalists will leave Russia," Zakharova said. Germany has not commented on the accusation.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Bernadette Baum)