EU countries expel dozens of Russian envoys amid war in Ukraine

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By Euronews  with AP
Deputy Prime Minister of the Netherlands Wopke Hoekstra delivers a speech, January 2022.
Deputy Prime Minister of the Netherlands Wopke Hoekstra delivers a speech, January 2022.   -  Copyright  Thomas Coex/Pool photo via AP, File

At least four European countries expelled a total of dozens of Russian envoys on Tuesday as relations sour between Russia and the west over the war in Ukraine.

The Netherlands said it was expelling 17 Russians who it described as intelligence officers masquerading as diplomats. The Czech Republic gave one Russian diplomat 72 hours to leave the country.

“Together with our allies, we are reducing the Russian intelligence presence in the EU,” the Czech Foreign Ministry said.

Belgium said it was ejecting 21 Russians, while Ireland told four senior Russian officials to leave the country because of activities deemed not “in accordance with international standards of diplomatic behaviour".

The Netherlands said it took its decision in consultation with “a number of like-minded countries,” citing similar expulsions by the United States, Poland, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Montenegro.

“The cabinet has decided to do this because of the threat to national security posed by this group,” the Dutch ministry said in a statement. “The intelligence threat against the Netherlands remains high. The current attitude of Russia in a broader sense makes the presence of these intelligence officers undesirable. The deportation is a measure taken in the context of national security.”

Poland last week expelled 45 Russians whom the government identified as intelligence officers using their diplomatic status as cover to operate in the country.

Dutch foreign minister Wopke Hoekstra said he was prepared for a retaliation from Moscow.

“Experience shows that Russia does not leave these kinds of measures unanswered," he said. "We cannot speculate about that, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is prepared for various scenarios that may arise in the near future.”

Russia said earlier on Tuesday that it had expelled 10 diplomats from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in relation for those countries expelling diplomats earlier this month.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said it was cancelling the accreditation of four Lithuanian diplomats, three Latvians and three Estonians and they would be required to leave the country. That corresponds to the number of Russian diplomats each country previously expelled.