Germany expelled two Russian diplomats over an execution-style killing in a Berlin public park by a man with ties to Russian intelligence.
Russia’s ambassador was summoned and told the personnel had been declared personae non gratae.
“Berlin’s unfriendly actions won’t be left without an adequate response,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on her Telegram channel. She said a statement would be issued shortly.
A Berlin court earlier convicted Vadim Krasikov, 56, who had links to Russia’s FSB intelligence service, of the August 2019 killing and sentenced him to life in prison.
The verdict comes at a moment of already mounting tension with the Kremlin and could put pressure on Chancellor Olaf Scholz to take a harder line.
The new German leader on Wednesday called for a united European “Ostpolitik” to seek dialogue with Moscow, even as the Kremlin amasses more than 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine.
“This state-sponsored murder, as determined by today’s court decision, represents a grave violation of German law and the sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Germany,” Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Wednesday.
Ms Baerbock, a Green party member who has taken a harder line on Moscow and opposes the Nord Stream 2 gas link between Germany and Russia, said she spoke by phone with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday and asked for an “open and honest” dialogue.
“It’s very clear that actions like the Tiergarten murder places a heavy burden on this exchange,” she said.
The decision by the eight-day-old German government follows the expulsion of two Russian diplomats in December 2019 in response to Russia’s lack of assistance in the investigation into the killing in broad daylight.
Russia then expelled two Germans and again vowed retaliation.
The dark episode between Berlin and Moscow adds a new burden for Germany, which has baulked at the more aggressive stances of its US and European allies.
The country has sought to keep a channel open to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The US and EU are considering a response to aggressive action against Ukraine as Russia posts military hardware near the border.
Mr Scholz reiterated in the Bundestag, about 2.4 kilometres from the site of the murder, that any breach of Ukraine’s borders will carry a heavy price.
Mr Krasikov, who was carrying a Russian passport with a fake identity, shot dead Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a former militia leader who had been designated a terrorist by the Kremlin.
The court said the killing was an act of revenge. The victim was shot at close range with a Glock 26 pistol that was equipped with a silencer.
The assailant dispensed with the weapon, along with the e-bike he fled on, in the nearby Spree river, the indictment said.
He was arrested soon after and has been in custody ever since. Federal prosecutors charged him in June 2020.