In a coordinated move, four new European Union countries have expelled more than 40 Russian diplomats, accusing them of spying for Russia.
Authorities in Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic issued orders to expel about 43 Russian embassies in those countries on Tuesday afternoon.
The move follows similar measures taken by other EU member states, including Poland, last week.
Belgian Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmes told the Belgian parliament that the expulsion of Russian diplomats was “related to our national security”.
Speaking to members of parliament, Willems reiterated that 21 employees of the Russian embassy in Brussels and at the consulate in Antwerp are being asked to leave the country, and given two weeks to leave.
She added that the move was carried out in coordination with the Netherlands, neighboring Belgium, whose foreign ministry said it had expelled 17 Russian diplomats because it considered them “covertly active” as intelligence officers.
Irish Prime Minister Michael Martin addressed members of Parliament and said his government had expelled four Russian diplomats after receiving security advice from its intelligence officials.
Martin confirmed that his government had asked Russian officials to leave the country “because their activities do not comply with international standards of diplomatic conduct.”
The Russian embassy in Dublin said it rejected the “baseless (Irish) decision,” adding that it “would further deteriorate Russian-Irish relations.”
In the Czech Republic, a government official told AFP that the diplomat expelled from Prague was the Russian deputy ambassador.
“We are working with our allies to reduce the presence of Russian intelligence in the European Union,” the Czech foreign ministry wrote on Twitter.
On Wednesday, Poland expelled 45 Russian diplomats accredited to it, accusing them of involvement in suspected espionage operations in the country.
Poland’s Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski wrote on Twitter that Polish intelligence officials were “dismantling the network of Russian special services (intelligence) in our country.”
Earlier this month, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia expelled a total of 20 Russian embassies in their countries, accusing them of activities “contrary to their diplomatic status”.
Russia has tended to respond to such decisions with reciprocal steps, and announced earlier today the expulsion of 10 diplomats from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.