Ukraine war: More than 40 Russian diplomats expelled from four countries over alleged spying | UK News
Belgium, Ireland and two other EU allies have expelled a total of 43 Russian diplomats over alleged spying, taking the number of Russian officials to be kicked out of European nations this month to over 100.
The expulsions are thought to be linked to the role played by Russia’s spy agencies in the war in Ukraine, two European officials told Sky News.
The individuals being ejected might not themselves have directly been involved in the war.
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However, the decision to reduce the presence of what are understood to be a total of “high hundreds” of Russian intelligence officers working under diplomatic cover across Europe signals a hardening of European states’ attitudes towards Russia’s vast intelligence network, they said.
One western official said Russia’s spy agencies had a “central role in planning the invasion”, including in shaping the false narratives used to justify the war against Ukraine.
Russia’s spy agencies also pose a threat to individual countries, they said.
The main agencies are the GRU military intelligence agency, the FSB, Russia’s domestic spy agency – though it also conducts operations overseas, including in Ukraine – and the foreign intelligence service, the SVR.
While the expulsions have not happened in one go, they appear similar to a mass ejection of dozens of suspected Russian intelligence officers in the wake of the novichok spy poisonings in the UK in March 2018.
On that occasion, London kicked out almost all of the Russian intelligence officers that had been based in the UK after blaming the GRU for the attempted assassination of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
Allies simultaneously took reciprocal action in what was seen as a major rebuke of Russia’s use of a chemical weapon on the streets of Salisbury.
In the wake of the war in Ukraine, there appears again to be a move among allies to further reduce – in some instances very significantly – Russia‘s ability to conduct malignant activities within their respective countries and beyond.
The Belgian foreign ministry on Tuesday said it has expelled 21 Russian diplomats for alleged spying and posing threats to security, the Reuters news agency reported.
The 21 Russians worked at Moscow’s embassy in Brussels and consulate in Antwerp. They were all accredited as diplomats but were working on spying and influencing operations, a ministry spokesperson said.
One the same day, the Dutch foreign ministry said it has expelled 17 Russian intelligence agents who were accredited as diplomats, based on information from its own security services, Reuters reported.
‘Not possible to get EU on same agenda’
Ireland asked four senior officials at the Russian Embassy to leave the country and the Czech Republic also expelled one member of the diplomatic staff at Russia’s embassy in Prague.
Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin said it was not possible to coordinate such moves among all 27 EU members.
“Some of the Baltic states and some states on the eastern side have taken steps already in terms of sending officials back to the Russian Federation. No EU member state has yet expelled an ambassador,” Martin told the Irish parliament.
“We’ve done it with some countries today, in terms of these measures with officials, working with other countries on this initiative. It hasn’t been possible to get the full 27 (EU members) working on the same sort of agenda. “
Last week, Poland said it had expelled 45 Russian diplomats for engaging in espionage in the country.
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On 18 March, Bulgaria’s foreign ministry said it had declared 10 Russian diplomats “persona non grata” and given them 72 hours to leave the Balkan country over what it said were activities deemed incompatible with their diplomatic status.
It is the second wave of expulsions of Russian diplomats from Bulgaria this month. On March 2, Sofia expelled two Russian diplomats over allegations they had been involved in espionage.
Also on March 18, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania expelled a total of 10 Russian diplomats.
Four days before that move, Slovakia’s Foreign Ministry says it decided to expel three Russian diplomats following its assessment of information from the country’s intelligence services on possible spying and bribery.