ROUNDUP 2 / Dispute over murder sentence: Scholz defends ‘clear answer’ to Moscow

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BRUSSELS / MOSCOW (dpa-AFX) – In the dispute over the verdict in the so-called Tiergartenmord trial, Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz defended the factual expulsion of two Russian diplomats from Germany. The judge’s verdict is “clear information that bad things have happened here, and therefore it is absolutely right that the Foreign Minister responded with a clear answer,” said the SPD politician on Thursday morning before the start of his first EU summit in Brussels.

The Kremlin in Moscow called the deportation of the diplomats “unpleasant”, but still relies on cooperation with the new Federal Chancellor. The deportation of the Russian embassy employees should “in no way” have a negative impact on the dialogue between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Scholz, said Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov of the Interfax agency. The Russian Foreign Ministry had previously announced an “appropriate response”.

“It is unacceptable for the German state that a foreign state has people killed in Germany,” said Federal Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FPD). That is why he, like Chancellor Scholz, is behind the “decisive reaction” of Foreign Minister Baerbock.

Because of the shooting of a Georgian in the Kleiner Tiergarten park in August 2019, the Berlin Superior Court sentenced a Russian to life imprisonment on Wednesday. The judges are convinced that the now 56-year-old acted on behalf of Russian government agencies – which Moscow rejects. As a consequence, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock declared two diplomats from the Russian embassy in Berlin to be “undesirable persons”. This is equivalent to expulsion.

In a press release, the Russian Foreign Ministry complained about the “unfounded and completely unrealistic allegations” regarding the alleged involvement of Russian state structures in the crime. The slain Georgian of Chechen descent was described in the communication as a “terrorist”. Putin also called the man who is said to have fought on the side of the separatists in the Russian republic of Chechnya years ago, after whose shooting he was a “bandit” and a “murderer”.

In Brussels, Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel was open to a European reaction to the verdict in the “zoo murder” trial. The summit will also deal with the deployment of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine, which has sparked fears of an invasion. Scholz again emphasized that the inviolability of the borders “is one of the most important foundations of peace in Europe”. One will “do everything to ensure that this invulnerability actually remains”.

Relations between Berlin and Moscow have continuously deteriorated over the past few years. Reasons include the annexation of the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea by Russia in 2014, a cyber attack on the Bundestag in 2015, for which Russian hackers are held responsible, and the poisoning of the Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny with the nerve agent Novichok Laboratory of the Bundeswehr had proven./haw/DP/zb

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