Several countries together with the Czech Republic and the Netherlands have expelled dozens of Russian diplomats suspected of spying in the shadow of the war in Ukraine. Russia has responded in kind. Belgian diplomats have been barred from Russia’s embassy in Brussels and consulate in Antwerp. Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmes has given them two weeks to leave. The move was coordinated with the neighboring Netherlands, whose foreign ministry expelled 17 Russian diplomats regarded as ‘secretly active’ as intelligence officers.
Foreign Minister Simon Coveny said four ‘high officials’ at the Russian embassy in Dublin were ordered to leave the country for violating the codeword for espionage. This was the ‘International Standards for Diplomatic Behavior’. The Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave Russian diplomats 72 hours to leave the embassy in Prague. Diplomats are considered deputy ambassadors of Russia. The Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted, ‘With allies, we are reducing the presence of Russian intelligence in the EU’.
‘The answer is given on a reciprocal basis,’ Maria Zakharova, a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, told AFP. She gave no further details. The Russian Foreign Ministry has criticized The Hague’s decision to expel Russian diplomats. She called it an ‘unfriendly move’ and proved that The Hague was not interested in ‘maintaining a normal diplomatic channel’.
‘The Dutch have overcome their desire to ‘attack’ the Russian embassy in a more painful way,’ the ministry added. The expulsion announced on Tuesday stepped up Western crackdowns on Russia after the February 24 invasion of Ukraine. Russia’s economy has already been severely hit by several rounds of sanctions imposed primarily by the EU and the United States.