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Four European countries to expel Russian diplomats over espionage claims

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Several European countries announced Tuesday that they would expel dozens of Russian diplomats suspected of spying.

The announcements — made by Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland and the Czech Republic — come after the Biden administration in late February said it was beginning the process of expelling 12 Russian “intelligence operatives” who allegedly carried out espionage activities harmful to national security.

The move to expel the Russian envoys also comes on the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which entered its second month last week.

The Netherlands said it was expelling 17 Russians who were in the country “under diplomatic cover,” according to a tweet from Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra.

“This step was taken in coordination with other like-minded countries,” Hoekstra said in a separate tweet. “This is a measure taken in the context of national security.”

In Belgium, 21 individuals working at the Russian Embassy and Russian Consulate were expelled, according to a tweet from Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Sophie Wilmès.

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney announced in a statement posted to Twitter that senior Russian officials have been asked to leave his country as well.

“This afternoon, the Department of Foreign Affairs summoned the Russian Ambassador to Iveagh House to advise him that four senior officials have been asked to leave the State,” Coveney wrote.

“This is because their activities have not been in accordance with international standards of diplomatic behaviour. This action is being taken under Article 9 of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations,” he added.

The foreign affairs minister noted, however, that the government still believes “that diplomatic channels between Ireland and the Russian Federation should remain open.”

“This is in the interest of our citizens as well as to ensure that we can continue to have a diplomatic channel of communication between Ireland and the Russian Federation in the future,” he added.

In the Czech Republic, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed on Twitter that it informed the Russian Embassy in Prague that a member of its diplomatic staff was “declared persona non grata and was requested to leave Czechia within 72 hours.”

“Together with our Allies, we are reducing the Russian intelligence presence in the EU,” the ministry added.

The expulsions come as Russia is continuing its invasion of Ukraine. While Moscow’s attack has continued for more than a month, its efforts have stalled in some areas because of staunch opposition from Ukrainian forces.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price applauded the European countries for expelling alleged Russian intelligence officers, writing that the U.S. stands “unified with our partners in protecting their national security from the Russian Federation’s intelligence threats and against threats to democracy.”

As our partners have outlined, these actions are in response to these individuals’ activities, which are in contravention of their diplomatic status, and the Russian Federation’s aggression in Ukraine,” Price wrote.

“We continue our united support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he added.

Coveney, in his statement on Tuesday, said Ireland’s channel of communication with the Russian Federation “has been important in the context of conveying our strong views on the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine, which we regard as a serious breach of international law.”

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