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Attacked with red paint and frozen bank accounts, Europeans are venting their frustrations about Russia on its diplomats

May 11, 2022, 5:54 PM UTC

Pro-Ukraine protesters across Europe are furious about Russia’s invasion, and they’re taking it out on the closest Russian government official they can find.

On Monday, Russian ambassador to Poland Sergey Andreev was doused in red paint by protesters while visiting a cemetery for Soviet soldiers in Warsaw to mark Russia’s Victory Day, a celebration of the date the Soviet Union defeated Nazi Germany in World War II. 

Images of the protest were later released by Russian news agencies. In videos of the event, protesters can be seen bearing Ukrainian flags and calling the Russian officials “fascists.”

It was just the latest in a number of incidents involving pro-Ukraine protesters letting Russian embassy workers in Europe know how they felt. 

On March 8, activists dumped a truckload of crushed coal in front of Russia’s embassy in Warsaw, in a protest against the war and in a plea for European nations to wean themselves off their dependence on Russian energy. 

And on May 8, protesters hauled a military tank on a tractor and placed it in front of the Russian embassy in Warsaw, a reference to a now-famous symbol of public resistance in Ukraine: farmers using their tractors to haul away captured Russian tanks

Moscow representatives have been unimpressed with the heckling of Russian diplomats in Europe, with foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova reacting to the paint attack on Andreev by likening protesters to “neo-Nazis,” a term Russian President Vladimir Putin has used to describe Ukraine counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish, and his government in the past.

The civilian actions follow more formal moves by European governments, and Russian diplomats have hardly felt welcome in Europe since the invasion of Ukraine began at the end of February. 

Around 400 Russian diplomats have been expelled from Europe in the three months since the war began. In April, France even expelled six Russians it suspected were operating as spies “under diplomatic cover.”

Several cities housing Russian embassies have made their stance on the war perfectly clear by changing street names reflecting pro-Ukraine sentiments, often right at the doorstep of Russian embassies. 

In Lithuania, city officials in the capital Vilnius changed the name of the street the Russian embassy sits on to “Ukrainian Heroes Street” in March. In neighboring Latvia, officials in Riga also agreed to rename the Russian embassy’s street to “Independent Ukraine Street.”

Other government actions have had bigger consequences. The Russian embassy in Poland was cut off from its bank accounts after the invasion, leaving it “practically isolated,” Andreev told Reuters this week

The difficult conditions for Russian diplomats abroad has led to some commentators in Russia suggesting that  ambassadors be recalled by Moscow and return to Russia. 

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