Russia’s spying may be thwarted by the expulsion of Russian diplomats

In an international match of spy and spy, Europe has struck a devastating blow to Russia.

Nearly a dozen European countries have expulsed hundreds of Russian officials from consulates and embassies in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine late February. More recently, Russia was charged with war crimes against civilians. According to U.S. officials and European officials, a significant amount are likely to be spies pretending they’re diplomats.

Russia depends on those operatives to gather intelligence inside the countries where they serve, so the expulsions could dismantle large parts of Moscow’s spy networks and lead to a dramatic reduction in espionage and disinformation operations against the West, current and former officials said.

” The intelligence war against Russia is in full swing,” stated Marc Polymeropoulos (a former CIA officer, who was responsible for overseeing the agency’s clandestine operations across Europe and Russia). Officials claimed that it was the biggest coordinated expulsion of European diplomats ever.

“Europe was always Russia’s playground. They have wreaked havoc with election interference and assassinations. “This is an important step,” Polymeropoulos stated.

In the past six weeks, European officials have asked nearly 400 Russian diplomats to leave their postings, according to a tally by The Washington Post. You will notice that countries who have tried for years to avoid conflict with Moscow are included in those declaring Russian diplomats persona nu grata.

The Czech Republic has expelled six Russian diplomats from Prague. This is a departure that follows a more hawkish approach to Moscow than in the past. “WE FORCED 100 RUSSIAN ‘DIPLOMATS’ TO LEAVE,” said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in an Instagram post that implied the Russian officials were actually intelligence officers.

Senior European officers involved in this expulsion said that the effect would vary depending on where they were. Austria is one example of a country that has a lot of international agencies. Others, such as the Baltics have large numbers ethnic Russians that moved to the region during Soviet occupation. These can also be used for influence campaigns.

A senior European diplomat described it as a “major disruption” of Russia’s intelligence work across Europe. It could be a long-lasting disruption. According to the diplomat, it will be difficult for Russia’s intelligence officers to replenish their ranks.

“Reassigning and instruction will take time and may not be possible for some time, if ever,” said the diplomat who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters. “Retraining, redeploying, all of this is disrupted.”

On Monday, prompted by scenes of atrocities in the Ukrainian city of Bucha, where civilians were found shot after Russian forces had left, Germany declared 40 Russian diplomats “undesirable persons,” calling them threats to national security who had “worked against our freedom.” On the same day, France also announced expulsions. In Lithuania and Latvia (both Baltic states that are known for their hardline against Russia), the government expelled several Russian diplomats and closed Russian consulates.

“The Russians find it painful,” said a top Baltic diplomat. “We closed their regional network.”

More countries followed suit, expelling dozens of Russian personnel from Denmark, Italy, Slovenia, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

” A number of European countries, such as Belgium or the Czech Republic, have stated that these moves were coordinated with their closest neighbors and/or allies.” Jeff Rathke is a Johns Hopkins University Europe scholar and former State Department career official. “This helps to sketch the outline of a likely understanding among European countries that they will move to reduce the Russian intelligence footprint now, in response to the ruthless and brutal war Moscow is waging in Ukraine.”

Governments in Europe have been discussing for more than a month a coordinated expulsion, but some moved more quickly after the massacres in Bucha, according to officials familiar with the matter.

The United States expelled 12 Russians described as “intelligence operatives” from the Russian Permanent Mission to the United Nations on Feb. 28, days after the Russian invasion began. This move was planned for several months. The Biden administration is not yet clear whether it intends to expel more Russians.

Russian officials launch spy operations from embassies, often under false pretenses of diplomatic immunity. However, Moscow has European spies who are designated as such by the host country. In certain cases, Russia’s most powerful spies have been permitted to stay in their positions despite the worsening of ties.

” The declared spies weren’t all expelled,” says a European official who is familiar with the situation. In some instances, the station chief may have to make do with a small team. That can remain a valuable channel.”

The last coordinated expulsion among the U.S. and its European allies followed Russia’s poisoning of a former British spy and his daughter in the English town of Salisbury in 2018. Two dozen nations ejected more than 150 Russians.

The current campaign surpasses the Cold War’s largest effort.

” “It is a sign of the seriousness and allied response,” Polymeropoulos stated. There is the possibility that Russia will expel some Russians and then reciprocate by sending their embassy to Moscow. The fact that so many countries decided on mass expulsions shows how the cost benefit calculation changed.”

And the effects may be long-lasting. It is likely that countries won’t allow substitutes for expelled citizens. This could lead to restricted access by Russia to E.U intelligence. Rathke stated that the territory was his.

In addition to removing spies from the country, Russian diplomatic officials who report back to Moscow may not be reporting as much Russian-manufactured misinformation towards citizens of host countries. This is according U.S. diplomats and European diplomats.

Some Czech officials noticed that there are fewer Russian-manufactured disinformation campaigns targeting their internal politics, according to a diplomat who is familiar with the situation.

Analysts anticipate that this trend will continue in other countries.

“Russia’s disinformation efforts in Europe and America about the events in Ukraine will be lessened by their expulsion. This could also impact Western attempts to maintain a united front to respond to the conflict,” Angela Stent of Georgetown University, who is a Russia scholar and was a senior intelligence officer in the George W. Bush administration.

Russia’s economic relations with Europe will be harmed by the expulsions. This is despite Europe already being hit hard by unprecedented sanctions. A European official said that Russia’s business was “cracking down in Europe” and that it will create a new obstacle to its ability to support transnational businesses.

But expelling Russian diplomats and officials also has its risks. We are trying to expel both diplomats and spies, so we’ll have less channels for communication when we need to communicate with each other. It’s a downside, but we think it’s appropriate given the circumstances.”

Sam Charap, a senior political scientist at the Rand Corporation, said the expulsions were consistent with the broader efforts to sever all channels with Russia except certain crisis communication lines.

” This is a reasonable response to the terrible war but could make it more difficult to carry out diplomacy should that time come.” he stated.

And if Russia does the same, it could be more difficult for European officials understand what is happening in Moscow.

” We have less information from Russia currently, generally speaking,” Charap stated. Independent media outlets have been shut down completely. Even harder to locate Russian state television online is the fact that it’s difficult to access them. So losing Western diplomatic eyes and ears hurts even more now than before.”

Sammy Westfall contributed to this report.

Read More

Related Posts