Ireland considers expelling Russian diplomats over UK attack
Security checks to determine if foreign officials are working as secret agents
Simon Carswell, Public Affairs Editor, in Brussels.
The Government will consider whether to expel Russian diplomats in Dublin over the coming days in solidarity with the UK’s retaliatory response over the nerve-agent attack on a former spy in England.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said in Brussels that a security assessment would be carried out on Russian diplomats and their activities in Ireland to assess whether they are covertly working as intelligence agents.
Mr Varadkar made his remarks at a summit in Brussels where EU leaders gave their full backing to the British prime minister Theresa May.
The European Council of leaders adopted a statement declaring that it was “highly likely Russia is responsible” for the attempted poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury earlier this month.
The declaration, a major diplomatic victory for the British leader, goes further than a statement by foreign ministers earlier this week which avoided assigning blame to Russia.
“What we will now consider in the coming days is to whether we want to take individual action relating to Russian diplomats in Ireland. Bear in mind what the United Kingdom did was to expel 23 diplomats who they believed weren’t actually diplomats; [they]were agents,” he told reporters.
“We would have to do a security assessment just like they did before that. We are not going to randomly expel people who are genuine diplomats perhaps.”
The Taoiseach said that he already spoke with Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney about possible actions against Russians at the embassy on Orwell Road in Rathgar.
“We will make that decision in the early part of next week,” he said.
The Taoiseach denied that the Government had shifted position by stating that it now agreed along with other EU member states with London’s assessment that Russia was likely involved in the assassination attempt.
“The right thing to do is to allow the UK to assess their assessment with the heads of state and government. That is one of the things that was done last night,” he said.
“The UK shared their assessment and obviously other countries who have intelligence agencies as well were able to share their assessment of what happened in Salisbury. So the right and proper thing to do in these things is to actually have the discussion and see the assessment, or at least hear the assessment before you make a decision.”
Mr Varadkar said that he and French president Emmanuel Macron had proposed to EU leaders that they go further than their previous position by agreeing with the UK that Russia was likely responsible for the attack rather than just expressing concern about it.
In a further sign of unity in Brussels around Britain’s diplomatic standoff with Russia, the EU decided to recall its ambassador from Moscow to consult with Brussels over the attack in Salisbury.
British prime minister Theresa May welcomed EU leaders’ agreement to support the UK view it was highly likely Russia was responsible for the attempted assassination of Mr Skripal and his daughter.
It was “crucial” there was recognition among the leaders at the European Council about “the threat that Russia poses,” Ms May told reporters as she departed the two-day EU summit in Brussels.
“The threat from Russia is one that respects no borders, and I think it is clear that Russia is challenging the values we share as Europeans, and it is right that we are standing together in defence of those values,” she said.
Ms May said she has been sharing intelligence with fellow leaders on the Salisbury attack.