This article first appeared in the New York Times here. Ada Petriczko is the 2021 Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow at CIS.
The authorities of Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland and the Czech Republic announced on Tuesday that they were expelling a total of 43 Russian envoys, in what the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs said was a coordinated security effort to counter Russian espionage.
Belgium expelled 21 members of staff at the Russian embassy in Brussels and at the consulate in Antwerp. Speaking to the parliament on Tuesday, Sophie Wilmès, the Belgian foreign minister, said that the diplomats were given two weeks to leave the country, in a decision she described as “related to our national security.”
Across the border, the government of the Netherlands announced on Tuesday that it was expelling 17 Russian officials who were accredited as diplomats, but were in fact “secretly active as intelligence officers.” The decision was based on intelligence from Belgian security services.
“The cabinet has decided to do this because of the threat to national security posed by this group,” the Dutch government saidin a news release.
Ireland’s prime minister, Micheal Martin, told the Irish parliament on Tuesday that four senior Russian officials have been asked to leave Ireland, after his government had also received security advice from its intelligence officials. Simon Coveney, Ireland’s minister of foreign affairs, said in a statement on Tuesday that the envoys breached “international standards of diplomatic behavior,” namely the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
Mr. Martin said that while Ireland was collaborating with other countries, all 27 EU members have yet to form a consensus on how to deal with Russian espionage.
Czech authorities said one staff member at the Russian Embassy in Prague had been declared persona non grata and was asked to leave the country within 72 hours.
The four countries have followed the United States and other EU nations, including Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Slovakia, which have also expelled Russian diplomats in recent weeks.
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Russian ambassadors in several countries have issued statements describing the decisions as “arbitrary,” “provocative” and “groundless.” Over the past weeks, Russia had also expelled diplomats from some of these countries in an act of retaliation.
“Experience shows that Russia does not leave such measures unanswered. We cannot speculate on that, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is prepared for various scenarios that may occur in the near future,” Wopke Hoekstra, the Dutch foreign affairs minister, said.