Russians threaten to retaliate for expulsion

Thu, Feb 3, 2011, 00:00

RUSSIA’S DEPUTY foreign minister has threatened retaliation over Ireland’s decision to expel a Russian diplomat over the use of forged Irish passports by a spy ring uncovered in the US last year.

The expulsion was “clearly an unfriendly step that will not go unanswered”, Vladimir Titov said yesterday, according to reports in several Russian media outlets including the state-run RIA-Novosti news agency. “[It] will not go without a corresponding reaction.”

Last night a spokesman for the Russian embassy in Dublin said it was aware of the remarks only from media reports and it was awaiting clarification from the foreign ministry in Moscow.

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said the reports, if correct, would be “very disappointing”. He added that there would be no justification for expelling an Irish diplomat from Russia.

The staff at the Irish Embassy in Moscow consists of four diplomats, including the Ambassador, and three consular officials.

“The [staff] have no intelligence functions of any kind and retaliatory action would be completely unwarranted. Any retaliatory action against Irish diplomats would be seen as being entirely without foundation,” the department spokesman said.

“Our action was designed to address a serious problem which has arisen.

Now that this matter has been dealt with, we hope that we can move on and develop further the very good relationship which exists between Ireland and Russia on so many other levels.”

On Tuesday the Department of Foreign Affairs said a Garda inquiry had found that “there is an entirely persuasive picture of Russian intelligence service involvement in the manufacture and use of false documents based on the acquisition of details of six genuine passports belonging to Irish citizens”.

David Cooney, the secretary general of the Department of Foreign Affairs, told Russian ambassador Mikhail Timoshkin that the abuse of Irish passports was “completely unacceptable and not the behaviour the Government would expect from a country with which we have friendly relations”.

The ambassador was also told that the accreditation of a named member of his staff with diplomatic status was to be terminated. The individual concerned is expected to leave Ireland within weeks.

The founder of Irish charity To Russia With Love, which was caught up in the affair when it emerged a passport belonging to a female volunteer had been implicated, said the scandal had not affected its work. “Everyone at the Russian embassy has been fantastically supportive throughout,” Debbie Deegan said.