This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Four European countries — the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, and the Czech Republic — announced major expulsions of Russian diplomats on March 29 for alleged espionage as Moscow’s war against Ukraine continues to rage.
The Netherlands announced the expulsion of 17 Russian diplomats who the Dutch Foreign Ministry says were acting as intelligence officers, while Belgium expelled 21 Russian diplomats, Ireland asked four to leave, and the Czech Republic one.
Russian embassies in the countries affected issued angry statements against the “unfriendly” actions and promised retaliation.
The Dutch ministry said in a statement that the ambassador of Russia was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and informed of the expulsion.
“The reason is that there is information…showing that the persons concerned, accredited as diplomats, are secretly active as intelligence officers,” the statement said.
The diplomats must leave the Netherlands within two weeks, Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said, according Dutch state news outlet NOS News.
“These people have diplomat on their business card when they are actually doing something completely different,” Hoekstra said without elaborating on what kind of alleged espionage they were engaged in.
“We have made this decision for the sake of Dutch security,” says Hoekstra. “In the greatly changed context, with the war in Ukraine and the increasing Russian assertiveness.”
A total of 75 Russian diplomats are accredited in the Netherlands, so there will still be 58 remaining in the country after the 17 leave. Hoekstra expects that Russia will also expel Dutch diplomats in response.
Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said it had summoned the Russian ambassador to advise him that four senior officials have been asked to leave.
“This is because their activities have not been in accordance with international standards of diplomatic behavior,” the ministry said in a statement posted on Twitter.
The statement said that the Irish government “continues to believe that diplomatic channels between Ireland and the Russian Federation should remain open.”
The Belgian government said the 21 Russian diplomats it is expelling participated in activities related to espionage or unlawful influence peddling.
Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmes told lawmakers the move was exclusively related to national security and that diplomatic channels would remain open.
The diplomats were given two weeks to leave the country, foreign affairs spokeswoman Elke Pattyn told the AP news agency.
The Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Twitter that it informed the Russian Embassy that one of its diplomatic staff had been declared persona non grata and was requested to leave within 72 hours.
“Together with our Allies, we are reducing the Russian intelligence presence in the EU,” the ministry said.
The Russian Embassy in Ireland described the Irish government’s decision as “arbitrary and groundless.”
The Russian ambassador to Belgium said in a statement the expulsions were “completely unfounded” and would deal a serious blow to Russian-Belgian relations.
“Countermeasures will be taken in relation to all unfriendly measures against Russian foreign institutions,” Russia’s RIA news agency quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying.