Four senior Russian diplomats expelled from State following ‘security advice’

Russian embassy rejects asssertion that activities of staff ‘not in accordance with international standards’

Four senior officials from the Russian embassy have been asked to leave the State because “their activities are not in accordance with the international standards of diplomatic behaviour”, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.

Mr Martin provided the update to Dáil on Tuesday, after Labour leader Ivana Bacik had earlier called for the ambassador to be expelled from Ireland and asked for an update on the situation.

Mr Martin said as the question came through from Ms Bacik, the Department of Foreign Affairs had summoned the Russian ambassador and “I was loath to override what would be normal diplomatic protocols”.

“Under the 1961 Vienna Convention, four senior officials of the Russian embassy have been asked to leave the State because their activities are not in accordance with the international standards of diplomatic behaviour,” he said.


“I would have received security advice yesterday and the Minister for Foreign Affairs had also received security advice.

“I met yesterday in relation to this with our national security team and under Article Nine of the 1961 Vienna Convention, we have taken these actions.

“We nonetheless do believe that diplomatic channels between the Russian Federation and this State should stay open, in the interest of us conveying our abhorrence of the war and maintaining diplomatic channels as a principle, but also to protect Irish citizens in Russia and elsewhere.”

Mr Martin said the Government wanted to ensure that diplomatic channels are maintained and kept open and that was “the motivation behind that decision not to expel the Russian ambassador at this stage”.

He said they were “anxious to keep channels open” and that it was important for the protection of Irish citizens in Russia and Ukraine as well as to communicate “our abhorrence of the war directly to the Russian Federation government”.

Espionage activities

Security sources say the four diplomats were selected because they had previously been identified by Garda security and intelligence unit as likely being engaged in espionage activities. Specifically, they are suspected to be members of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence unit, and to have used diplomatic cover to carry out intelligence gathering activities.

It is understood this assessment by Irish security services took place well before the invasion of Ukraine but was updated for the purposes of security breakings to Mr Martin and Mr Coveney this week.

Sources say a number of other suspected intelligence officials are not being expelled, despite being known to gardaí. One security source attributed this to “political and diplomatic reasons”.

It is understood officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs were concerned that expelling more diplomats would result in the Russians retaliating by ordering the closure the entire Irish embassy in Moscow.

Russia rejects

However, responding to the move the Russian embassy in Dublin said it “rejects such qualifications of the work of our diplomats. This is arbitrary, groundless decision which can only deteriorate further Russian-Irish relations, already damaged by Irish participation in illegitimate EU sanctions against Russia”.

“The embassy proceeds from the assumption that such a step by the Irish side will not go unanswered”.

In a statement, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said the Russian ambassador was summoned to Iveagh House on Tuesday afternoon to "advise him that four senior officials have been asked to leave the State".

“This is because their activities have not been in accordance with international standards of diplomatic behavior,” he said.

“This action is being taken under Article 9 of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.”

Mr Coveney said the Government continues to believe that diplomatic channels between Ireland and the Russian Federation “should remain open”.

“This is in the interests of our citizens as well as to ensure that we can continue to have a diplomatic channel of communication between Ireland and the Russian Federation in the future,” he added.

“This channel of communication has been important in the context of conveying our strong views on the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine, which we regard as a serious breach of international law.”

Meanwhile, the United States has welcomed the expulsion of diplomats operating out of the Russian embassy in Dublin as well as similar steps taken by other countries in the EU and elsewhere.

In a statement issued on Tuesday night the US State Department said it “applauds the recent expulsions of Russian intelligence officers by our partners in Europe and around the world”.

It echoed comments made by Mr Martin in the Dáil on Tuesday and said the expulsions were “in response to these individuals’ activities, which are in contravention of their diplomatic status, and the Russian Federation’s aggression in Ukraine”.

The statement stressed that the US stood “unified with our partners in protecting their national security from the Russian Federation’s intelligence threats and against threats to democracy” and it reiterated the “united support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

It concluded by saying the US was “committed to working with our Allies and partners to keep pressure on the Russian Federation and protect our common national interests from the Russian Federation’s actions”.

Russian intelligence

Russian currently has 31 registered diplomats working out of its embassy on Orwell Road in Rathgar, south Dublin. The Embassy has long been regarded as a hub for Russian intelligence in western Europe, particularly in the area of signals intelligence.

Even after the expulsions, Russia will still have 27 registered diplomats in Ireland, making it the third largest foreign embassy in Dublin. Only the US and Saudi Arabia operate larger embassies.

“I’m well aware of the numbers,” Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney told the Irish Times last week when asked about activities in the Embassy.

In a recent interview, former Defence Forces Chief of Staff Mark Mellett compared the Embassy to an “aircraft carrier” and questioned why Russia was seeking to expand it.

In 2020 the Government used national security legislation to block planning permission for the embassy to expand its structures.

Russia is likely to respond to the expulsions by ordering a similar number of Irish diplomats to leave Moscow. There are currently five Irish diplomats working in Moscow.

The Government made the announcement as the same time the Netherlands and Belgium announced they were expelling 17 and 21 Russian diplomats respectively for engaging in espionage. The Czech Republic also expelled one member of the diplomatic staff at Russia’s embassy in Prague.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor