Russians in Ireland sceptical over spy poisoning claims

Community is 3,500 strong, but tens of thousands speak the Russian language

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that the Irish government is to run a security assessment over Russian diplomats based in Ireland following the UK's decision to expel 23 Russian officials in the wake of the Salisbury attack. Video: EU Council

The Russian community in Ireland will celebrate 45 years of diplomatic relations at their annual ball in October.

What will be left to celebrate or how many diplomats will be there is anybody's guess following the declaration by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that he will expel any Russian diplomats based in Ireland if they are caught spying.

The ball, which has been going on for five years, is not only a fixture on the calendar for Irish-based Russians, but it also a major draw for expatriates.

Last year's iteration in the Clontarf Castle Hotel was attended by 200 guests.


The next ball will be held on October 12th in the same venue. One of the organisers is Anastasia McCabe, a Russian woman who has been living in Ireland since 2001.

She is involved in Russian Bridge which promotes Russian culture in Ireland and cultural links between the two countries. It also organises the John Field Piano Competition.

There are only about 3,500 Russian citizens in Ireland, but the Russian presence is much greater than that

She says this year’s ball in October was organised as a cultural event “long before this situation came on board” and it is planned to go ahead with it as scheduled.

Much has been made of plans by the Russian embassy to expand its premises in Dublin to many times its present size and questions have been asked why a country with a small presence in Ireland needs such a big embassy.

There are only about 3,500 Russian citizens in Ireland, but the Russian presence is much greater than that.

Russian minorities

According to a report carried out by the Irish Russian Enteprise Centre in 2009, there were then 80,000 Russian speakers in Ireland mostly from the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia which have substantial Russian minorities.

There are certainly enough speakers to sustain a Russian language newspaper, Nasha Gazeta, which has been in Ireland since 2001.

Its editor Sergey Tarutin says if Ireland expels more than three Russian diplomats in Ireland and Russia responds in kind, the Irish Embassy in Moscow will have to close because they only have three accredited diplomats.

Such a move to expel Russian diplomats would be “extremely stupid” he believes and jeapordise growing relationships between the two countries. He cited a business exchange between Irish and Russian agricultural companies last month as an example.

He said the notion that the Russian government was behind it 'doesn't make any sense' because the country had more to lose than to benefit

“It looks like a sign of recovering relationships, but now it will be completely gone,” he maintained.

Russian-born chess grandmaster Alexander Baburin, who lives in Blackrock, said he voted as an expatriate for Vladimir Putin in the recent Russian presidential election.

‘Lesser evil’

He did so, he said, not because he is a fan but because he is the “lesser evil” of the potential candidates. He believed that approximately 70 per cent of Russian citizens in Ireland also voted for Putin.

Mr Baburin, who has been living in Ireland since 1993, does not believe Russia was behind the poisoning incident in Salisbury which has caused an international breakdown in relations between Russia and the West.

He said the notion that the Russian government was behind it "doesn't make any sense" because the country had more to lose than to benefit from its attempts to kill former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal.

"Let's put it this way. I am sure that people in the Russian Government are capable of ordering killings, but I would hope they are a little bit smarter than this," he said.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times