Several EU member states expel dozens of Russian diplomats for suspected espionage

Russian Embassy PragueA WEEK AFTER POLAND announced the expulsion of 45 Russian diplomats, the foreign ministries of Belgium, the Czech Republic, Ireland and the Netherlands announced on March 29, 2022 that they would expel Russian diplomats. A day later, Slovakia followed up by announcing it will expel 35 Russian diplomats. On Monday, April 4, France, Germany and Lithuania followed suit with dozens of expulsions.

The German federal government announced it will expel 40 Russian diplomats who, according to minister of foreign affairs Annalena Baerbock, “worked every day against our freedom and against the cohesion of our society”, and are “a threat to those who seek our protection”. The persons involved have five days to leave Germany. Later that day, France announced it will expel “many” Russian diplomats “whose activities are contrary to our security interests”, adding that “this action is part of a European approach”. No further details are known at this time.
Furthermore, Lithuania ordered the Russian ambassador to Vilnius to leave the country, and announced their ambassador to Ukraine will return to Kyiv. In an official statement, foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said Lithuania was “lowering the level of diplomatic representation with Russia, this way expressing its full solidarity with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, who are suffering from Russia’s unprecedented aggression”. Meanwhile, Latvian minister of foreign affairs Edgars Rinkēvičs announced in a tweet that Latvia will “limit diplomatic relations” with the Russian Federation “taking into account the crimes committed by the Russian armed forces in Ukraine”, and that “specific decisions will be announced once internal procedures have been complete”.

The Czech Republic, which in 2021 called on the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to expel Russian diplomats in solidarity against Moscow, announced the expulsion of one diplomat from the Russian embassy in Prague, on a 72-hour notice. In a tweet, the Czech ministry of foreign affairs stated that “Together with our Allies, we are reducing the Russian intelligence presence in the EU”.

Belgium has order the expulsion of 21 diplomats from the Russian embassy in Brussels and consulate in Antwerp. Minister Sophie Wilmès said the measure was taken to protect national security and was unrelated to the war in Ukraine. “Diplomatic channels with Russia remain open, the Russian embassy can continue to operate and we continue to advocate dialogue”, Wilmès said.

The Netherlands will be expelling 17 diplomats from the Russian embassy in The Hague. According to minister Wopke Hoekstra, the diplomats were secretly active as intelligence officers. Hoekstra based this on information from the Dutch secret services AIVD and MIVD. The Russian embassy in The Hague has 75 registered diplomats, of which 58 will remain. Hoekstra says the decision was taken with “a number of like-minded countries”, based on grounds of national security. Like his Belgian colleague, Woekstra adds he wants diplomatic channels with Russia to remain open.

Ireland will be expelling four “senior officials” from the Russian embassy in Dublin, for engaging in activities “not […] in accordance with international standards of diplomatic behaviour”. They were suspected of being undercover military officers of the GRU and were already on the radar of Garda Síochána, the Irish national police and security service, for some time.

Furthermore, Slovakia announced it will “reduce the staff of the Russian embassy in Bratislava by 35”, after already having expelled three diplomats earlier in March, and having charged two people with espionage for Russia. The country’s official statement does not mention specifics beyond the statement that “we regret to note that […] the Russian diplomatic mission has not shown any interest in operating correctly on our territory”.

Prior to today’s announcements from Germany and France, Dutch intelligence scholar Ben de Jong pointed out in NRC Handelsblad that the absence of France and Germany limited the strength of the political signal that was sent to Russia. Sources told NRC that the expelled diplomats in the Netherlands were active in collecting secret information about weapons deliveries to Ukraine, political and military decision-making in NATO and the EU, and discussions about new sanctions.

De Jong also pointed out that besides the use of diplomatic covers and illegals, Russian secret services likely have representatives in companies such as Gazprom and Aeroflot, who are not affected by the expulsions and can continue their operations, albeit without the protection of a diplomatic cover. Another intelligence scholar points out that new diplomats will eventually be registered.

The Belgian and Dutch ministers cited national security as ground for the expulsion, rather than the expulsions being a form of sanction over the war in Ukraine. The coordinated effort is seen as a joint political statement to the Russian government.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told AFP that “responses will be provided on the basis of the principle of reciprocity.”

Author: Matthijs Koot | Date: 04 April 2022 | Permalink

About intelNews
Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

One Response to Several EU member states expel dozens of Russian diplomats for suspected espionage

  1. MIchael Mahoney says:

    As a historian of 20th Century Eastern Europe all I can say about this news is: Here we go again.

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