Germany has sharply dialled down its ties with Moscow and is financially and militarily supporting Ukraine
Germany has sharply dialled down its ties with Moscow and is financially and militarily supporting Ukraine AFP

Germany said Wednesday it will drastically reduce Moscow's diplomatic presence on its soil in response to a similar move from Russia, in the latest escalation of tensions over the war in Ukraine.

Berlin has ordered four of Moscow's five consulates in Germany to close, a foreign ministry spokesman told a regular government press conference.

"This was communicated to the Russian foreign ministry today," the spokesman said.

The move comes after Moscow put a limit of 350 on the number of German personnel allowed in Russia, according to the spokesman.

This will mean that hundreds of civil servants and local employees working for German institutions in Russia will have to leave the country, according to the German foreign ministry.

"This unjustified decision forces the government to make very substantial cuts in all areas of its presence in Russia," the spokesman said on Wednesday.

This will include closing the German consulates in Kaliningrad, Yekaterinburg and Novosibirsk, with operations to be considerably reduced and discontinued by November, he said.

Germany's embassy in Moscow and its consulate in St Petersburg will not be affected.

"For the Russian presence in Germany, our decisions apply reciprocally... in order to ensure a balance of the mutual presences both in terms of personnel and structure," the spokesman added.

Moscow's reduction of German staff in Russia will affect several hundred people working in German embassies or institutions starting from June, according to the foreign ministry.

Those affected include consulate staff, but mostly employees of the Goethe cultural institute in the country, German schools and nurseries.

A close economic partner with Russia before Moscow invaded Ukraine, Germany has since sharply dialled down its ties with Moscow, while financially and militarily supporting Kyiv in the conflict.

Since the onset of the conflict in Ukraine, Russian espionage in Germany has grown at a rate rarely equalled in recent years, according to German security services.

In April, Germany expelled several Russian diplomats "to reduce the presence of intelligence services", prompting a tit-for-tat response from Moscow which booted out some 20 German embassy staff.

In spring 2022, Germany already expelled some 40 Russian diplomats which Berlin believed to represent a threat to its security.

Last October the head of Germany's cybersecurity agency, Arne Schoenbohm, was fired after news reports revealed his proximity to a cybersecurity consultancy believed to have contacts with Russian intelligence services.

A month later, a German reserve officer was handed a suspended prison sentence of a year and nine months for spying for Russia.

Even before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Germany had repeatedly accused Russia of cyberattacks on its soil.

Relations between the two countries have also been strained by energy policies, with Russia throttling gas supplies to Germany due to tensions over the Ukraine conflict.