BRUSSELS: Belgium has expelled 21 Russian diplomats for alleged spying and posing threats to security, the foreign affairs minister told lawmakers, amid similar moves by fellow EU members the Netherlands, Ireland and the Czech Republic.
Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said it was not possible to coordinate such moves among all 27 EU members.
The 21 Russians worked at Moscow’s embassy in Brussels and consulate in Antwerp. They were all accredited as diplomats but were working on spying and influencing operations, a ministry spokesperson said.
Wilmes said the Belgian decision was coordinated with the Netherlands which on Tuesday expelled 17 Russian intelligence agents who were accredited as diplomats, based on information from its own security services, its foreign affairs ministry said.
Ireland asked four senior officials at the Russian Embassy to leave the country and the Czech Republic also expelled one member of the diplomatic staff at Russia’s embassy in Prague.
“Some of the Baltic states and some states on the eastern side have taken steps already in terms of sending officials back to the Russian Federation. No EU member state has yet expelled an ambassador,” Martin told the Irish parliament.
“We’ve done it with some countries today, in terms of these measures with officials, working with other countries on this initiative. It hasn’t been possible to get the full 27 (EU members) working on the same sort of agenda.” Belgian Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmes told parliament Brussels’ move was not a sanction.
“It is only related to our national security,” she said.
“Diplomatic channels remain open with Russia, the Russian Embassy can continue to operate and we continue to advocate dialogue,” she said. The 21 have two weeks to leave the country.