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Russia expels Finnish diplomats, shuts down consulate in a tit-for-tat move

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto speaks during press conference at the President's official residence M'ntyniemi in Helsinki, Finland, Sunday, July 2,...

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto speaks during press conference at the President's official residence M'ntyniemi in Helsinki, Finland, Sunday, July 2,...

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's Foreign Ministry on Thursday announced the expelling of nine Finnish diplomats and shutting down of Finland's consulate in St. Petersburg in retaliation for Finland expelling nine Russian diplomats last month.

The ministry said in a lengthy statement that it summoned Finland's ambassador to Russia, Antti Helanterä, on Thursday, and relayed its “strong protest in connection with the confrontational anti-Russian policy pursued by the Finnish authorities.”

The statement also noted that “the parameters of Finland's accession to NATO create a threat” to Russia's security, and “encouraging the Kyiv regime to (go to) war and pumping it with Western weapons means clearly hostile actions against our country.” The statement concluded that “this line of the Finnish authorities cannot remain unanswered.”

It said nine Finnish diplomats would be expelled from Russia, and a permit allowing the Finnish consulate in St. Petersburg — the country's second-largest city — to operate will be revoked starting from Oct. 1.

Finland, which shares a long border with Russia, joined NATO in April as the military alliance’s 31st member. Interaction between Helsinki and Moscow has become restrained in recent months.

Finland’s veteran politician and then foreign minister, Pekka Haavisto, announced in May that Russia has frozen the bank accounts of Finland’s diplomatic representations in Moscow and St. Petersburg, disrupting money flow and forcing the Nordic country’s missions to resort to cash payments.

In June, Finland expelled nine Russian diplomats, suspected of working in intelligence operations at Russia’s embassy in Helsinki.

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö tweeted that he considered Moscow’s move on Thursday as “a tough and asymmetric” response to Helsinki’s decision to expel Russian diplomats.

Niinistö said the Finnish government was mulling counter-measures including a possible closure of Russia’s consulate in the western Finnish port city of Turku.

Finnish Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen said on Twitter that Moscow’s move was “out of proportion” and that “Finland will react” to Russia’s decision.

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Associated Press writer Jari Tanner contributed from Helsinki, Finland.