In a coordinated move with other European Union members, Ireland decided to expel Russian diplomats suspected of espionage.
Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney announced on March 29 that four senior members of the Russian embassy diplomatic staff have been asked to leave the country.
Their activities “had not been in accordance with international standards of diplomatic behavior,” the statement said. They were suspected to be spies, undercover officers acting for the Russian military agency (GRU).
Ireland’s decision follows a security briefing that Prime Minister Micheál Martin and Minister Coveney received.
The Russian embassy reacted with a statement rejecting an “arbitrary, groundless decision” from Ireland.
In a coordinated move, three other European Union members expelled Russian diplomats the same day. Belgium expelled 21 officials for alleged spying and posing threats to security, the Netherlands summoned 17 Russians to leave and the Czech Republic required one Russian diplomat to leave within 72 hours.
Poland last week expelled 45 Russians identified as spies.
On March 15, Slovakia expelled three Russian diplomats because they didn’t respect the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, according to Slovak authorities. They discovered that Slovak nationals were sending sensitive information about NATO to undercover Russian agents from the GRU working at the embassy in Bratislava.
The Russian embassy has a large delegation in Ireland. With 27 members after the expulsion of the suspected spies, the Russian embassy will be the larger foreign embassy in the country after the United States and Saudi Arabia. The embassy of Ireland in Moscow has five diplomats.
Protesters have been gathering in front of the Russian embassy building in Dublin since the start of the war in Ukraine. Russian officials consider the decision to expel some of their fellow citizens “can only deteriorate further Russian-Irish relations”. The embassy also warned that this “will not go unanswered”.
On Tuesday, Russia removed accreditation to 10 officials from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as a retaliation from a similar move from the Baltic countries earlier in March.
Ireland opposition leader Mary Lou McDonald welcomed the decision and even asked to go further by expelling the Russian ambassador Yury Filatov. A petition including signatures of opposition parliament members and senators last month had already asked to expel Filatov from the country.
But the government refuses to take such a drastic decision. “There is a potential that if the ambassador is expelled, we will see an immediate closure of our embassy in Moscow and a complete breakdown of diplomatic relations,” Minister for Justice Helen McEntee had justified on February 27.
In mid-February, Yury Filatov had told that invading Ukraine would be “insane“ and that Russian military troops performing drills at the Ukrainian border would be withdrawn by February 20. Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24.
Yesterday, the government didn’t expel the ambassador because it wants to ensure that diplomatic channels are maintained and kept open. No European country has expelled a Russian ambassador so far.