EU countries Belgium, the Netherlands and Ireland announced on Tuesday the expulsion of dozens of Russian diplomats suspected of spying, in a coordinated action in the shadow of war from Moscow to Ukraine.
Belgian Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmes said her country was expelling 21 diplomats from the Russian embassy in Brussels and the consulate in Antwerp, giving them two weeks to leave.
She said the move was made in conjunction with neighboring Holland, which the Foreign Office said was expelling 17 Russian diplomats considered to be “secretly active” as intelligence officers.
Irish Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney said four ‘senior officials’ at the Russian Embassy in Dublin had been ordered to leave for engaging in activities ‘not…in line with international standards of behavior diplomatic” – spy code.
EU countries were preparing for Russia to retaliate by ordering the departure of their own diplomats.
The expulsions announced on Tuesday intensified Western blows directed at Russia after its February 24 invasion of Ukraine. Already several rounds of sanctions designed mainly by the EU and the US have severely undermined the Russian economy.
Russia now considers all EU countries, as well as the United States and its allies, including Japan, Britain and Australia, as “hostile” countries.
Following the Russian invasion, the United States expelled 12 New York-based Russian diplomats in early March whom it considered “intelligence agents”.
Russia retaliated last week by handing the United States a list of American diplomats declared “persona non grata”.
Poland, an EU country neighboring Ukraine, last week expelled 45 Russian diplomats for alleged espionage, prompting Moscow to accuse Warsaw of embarking on “a dangerous escalation”.
Russia was left virtually isolated at the United Nations General Assembly on March 2 when an overwhelming majority of countries – 141 in total – voted to pass a non-binding resolution demanding an end to Moscow’s war on Ukraine.
Only five countries voted against the resolution: Russia, Syria, North Korea, Belarus and Eritrea. 35 others abstained, including China.
Two days later, on March 4, the UN Human Rights Council voted to launch an investigation into violations committed during the war in Ukraine. Thirty-two of the 47 council members voted in favor, only Russia and Eritrea voted against.
Two weeks ago, Russia announced it was leaving another international rights forum, the Council of Europe, just before the Strasbourg-based pan-European body said it was expelling Russia.