The Russian ambassador to Ireland has described the decision by the Government to expel a Russian diplomat as “totally unwarranted, uncalled for, senseless and regrettable”.
At a press conference in the Russian embassy in Dublin on Tuesday afternoon, Yuri Filatov said that while Ireland was entitled to express solidarity with Britain, it should not have done so at the expense of Russia.
“We totally reject the underlying notion of the so-called Russian involvement in the Salisbury incident,” he said.
He was speaking after Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has confirmed one Russian diplomat based in Ireland was to be expelled.
The Russian ambassador was summoned to the Department of Foreign Affairs earlier on Tuesday to be told of the decision. The move followed a briefing by Mr Coveney of his Government colleagues at Tuesday morning’s Cabinet meeting.
On Monday, the United States and several European countries expelled more than 100 Russian diplomats over the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury. The UK government has blamed the poisoning on Russia.
However, Mr Filatov said it was high time Britain stopped “misleading” its own public and the international community over the nerve agent attack.
“We we are talking here about a very serious chemical incident. It should be treated responsibly and be investigated thoroughly and openly,” he said.
“Instead all we are witnessing is complete cover-up and (a blame-game). Everybody understands the absurdity of the situation yet nonetheless the political theatre goes on.”
Mr Filatov refused to be drawn on the reason given to him for the expulsion. When asked was the expulsion an act of solidarity with the British government, or arising from the security assessment carried out by the Irish Government, he said that was a question for the Irish Government to answer.
He said Russian diplomats had done nothing bad or illegal in Ireland and again reiterated his view the decision was arbitrary.
While saying the decision was not encouraging, Mr Filatov said he hoped that the “enormous amount of goodwill” that existed between the Irish and Russian people would help overcome the damage to diplomatic relations in the long-run.
Asked when the diplomat will have to leave Ireland, he said “soon”.
Explaining the decision to expel one Russian official, the Department of Foreign Affairs cited the agreement of leaders at the European Council summit in Brussels last week that “the Russian Federation is highly likely to have been responsible for the attack in Salisbury on March 4th, 2018, and that there is no plausible alternative explanation.
“The use of chemical weapons, including the use of any toxic chemicals as weapons, by anyone, anywhere, is particularly shocking and abhorrent. The attack in Salisbury was not just an attack against the United Kingdom, but an affront to the international rules-based system on which we all depend for our security and wellbeing.” Its statement added that Mr Coveney’s decision also followed a security-service assessment.
Russia has 17 accredited diplomats at its embassy, near Rathgar, in south Dublin.
On Monday, the White House announced sweeping measures, including the expulsion of 60 diplomats and the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle, in the first in a co-ordinated wave of announcements yesterday in response to the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy, and his daughter, Yulia, with what is believed to have been a Soviet-era nerve agent. Canada, Ukraine and Australia also announced plans to expel Russian individuals.
In echoes of the cold war, Moscow warned of retaliatory action, describing the expulsions as a provocative gesture.
Earlier, the leader of the Labour Party, Brendan Howlin, had urged caution. He said he fully supported the European Council’s show of solidarity with the UK but believed Ireland’s expulsion of diplomats would be more problematic, especially as the Skripal poisoning did not affect Ireland directly.
He told RTÉ's Morning Ireland that he wanted to see any evidence involving diplomats in Ireland. "Are there activities going on in Dublin that shouldn't be going on? Any information should be provided to the Opposition."
The Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes said the Government should brief Opposition leaders on the security assessment of the role of the 17 Russian diplomats. The People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy also called for the evidence to be shared “or at least presented” to Opposition leaders.
Both were speaking on RTÉ's Today with Sean O'Rourke show, on which Mr Murphy also questioned the reliability of the evidence being provided. He added, however, that foreign agents were operating in Ireland "without the Government doing anything" and that the Government should be getting full information from the UK, which could then be fully analysed.