Tensions between Russia and Europe over the Ukraine crisis take a new turn with Europe announcing the expulsion of Russian diplomats and Moscow warning the move will worsen ties.
Denmark said on Tuesday it will expel 15 Russian diplomats, in line with steps taken by other European Union countries, after reports of mass graves being found and of civilian killings in the Ukrainian town of Bucha.
Italy has expelled 30 Russian diplomats because of security concerns, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said. Italy summoned Russia's ambassador to the foreign ministry to tell him that the diplomats were being expelled.
The move comes after several other European Union countries including France and Germany on Monday said they would expel Russian diplomats.
Moscow, which claims images of executed civilians in Bucha were fake products of Ukrainian and Western propaganda aimed at discrediting Russia, said it would retaliate for the expulsion, RIA Novosti reported.
The Danish foreign ministry said that it did not want to cut diplomatic ties to Moscow and that the Russian ambassador and the rest of the embassy were not part of the expulsion.
Berlin did not specify the number of diplomats, but the Russian embassy in Berlin said that 40 members of Russian diplomatic missions in Germany had been told to leave the country.
Russia decried the German decision as "unfriendly", warning that it would worsen ties.
"The unfounded reduction in the number of diplomatic staff at Russian missions in Germany will narrow the space for maintaining dialogue between our countries, which will lead to a further deterioration in Russian-German relations," the embassy said in a statement posted on Telegram.
Western countries have slapped unprecedented sanctions on Russia since the military operation was announced in Ukraine in late February, heightening tensions between them.
German police said they had shut down the servers of Hydra, a sales site for Russian-speaking customers that was accessible via the darknet, and seized bitcoins worth 23 million euros.
Lithuania also said it was expelling Russia's ambassador to the Baltic country. The Baltic country would also close Russia's consulate in the port city of Klaipeda, and recall its envoy to Moscow "in the near future".
US, Europe to hit Russia with new sanctions
US President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said fresh sanctions would be announced this week against Moscow.
He told reporters that discussions about sanctions with European allies include "options that relate to energy."
European Union is also working on a new package of sanctions against Russia aimed at restricting the leasing of airplanes and the import and export of products like jet fuel, steel products, and luxury goods, a report in CNBC said.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Western allies would agree on further sanctions against Moscow in the coming days.
France's European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune said the European Union will most likely adopt a new round of sanctions on Wednesday.
The EU’s new sanctions would reportedly not see a ban on Russian gas imports to the European Union, with German Finance Minister Christian Lindner saying such a move would harm it more than Moscow.
“We have to cut all economic relationships with Russia, but at the moment, it's not possible to cut the gas supplies. We need some time," Lindner said as he arrived for talks with his eurozone counterparts in Luxembourg.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell will travel to Kiev this week for a meeting with Ukrainian
President Volodymyr Zelensky, an EU spokesman said on Tuesday.
The meeting will take place "prior to the pledging event #StandUpForUkraine on Saturday in Warsaw", EU spokesman Eric Mamer wrote on Twitter.
Zelenskiy said on Tuesday Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who held on to his sweeping majority at elections on Sunday, would have to choose between Moscow and the "other world".
Zelensky was to address the UN Security Council later Tuesday, where he was expected to demand tough new sanctions on Moscow over what he has called "war crimes" and "genocide" in Bucha.
‘Russia mulling full-scale attack in east Ukraine’
Sergiy Gaiday, governor of the breakaway Lugansk region in eastern Ukraine, said Russian forces were preparing for a full-scale attack in the region.
"We see that equipment is coming from different directions, they are bringing manpower, they are bringing fuel," Gaiday said. "We understand that they are preparing for a full-scale big breakthrough."
His remarks came after the Pentagon said Russia had removed about two-thirds of the troops it had around the capital Kiev and was planning to redeploy them elsewhere in Ukraine.
Russia has said it would focus its military efforts on the southeast Donbas region.
“Russia is repositioning its forces to concentrate its offensive operations in eastern and parts of southern Ukraine," the White House said.
Sullivan said the next phase of the Russian military operation in Ukraine could last “months or longer".
On Tuesday, British military intelligence said Ukrainian troops had recaptured key northern terrain, forcing Russian forces to retreat from areas around the city of Chernihiv and north of the capital Kiev.
It said Ukrainian troops have recaptured key northern terrain, forcing Russian forces to retreat from areas around the city of Chernihiv and north of Kiev.
Zelensky, however, said Ukraine's efforts to push back Russian troops from Mariupol were facing difficulties. In a televised interview with local media,he said the military situation in the southern port city was "very difficult".
He also said Turkey had proposed a plan to help evacuate wounded people and dead bodies from the city, but cautioned that the initiative depended on the will of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Chinese, Ukrainian FMs hold talks
China and Ukraine's foreign ministers spoke for the first time in over a month, with Beijing maintaining its push for peace talks.
Monday's phone call between Wang Yi and Ukraine's Dmytro Kuleba was the first reported high-level talks between the two nations since March 1, whereas Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited China last week for a series of meetings.
During the call, which Beijing said was made at Kiev's request, Wang said China's "basic attitude towards the Ukraine issue is to promote peace talks", according to a Chinese foreign ministry readout.
"The war will someday end, and the key is how to learn from this painful experience to properly uphold lasting security in Europe," Wang said.
He added that Beijing believed in the establishment of a "balanced, effective and sustainable European security mechanism" based on "equal dialogue" and "the principle of indivisibility of security".
"China is willing to take an objective and fair position to continue playing a constructive role in its own way," Wang said.
Kuleba tweeted on Monday that he was "grateful to my Chinese counterpart for solidarity with civilian victims".
"We both share the conviction that ending the war against Ukraine serves common interests of peace, global food security, and international trade," he added.