The Irish Times view on the expulsion of Russian officials: relations hit a new nadir

Tensions over suspected spying from the Russian embassy in Dublin have been simmering for years

The Government's decision to expel four Russian diplomats is a rare move against a foreign mission in Dublin, and yet it had been coming for some time. Irish public anger over Vladimir Putin's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and the country's strong feeling of solidarity with Ukrainians, has been reflected in official policy, which has been strong in support of sanctions against Moscow and generous in its openness to refugees fleeing the war. The Russian embassy's regurgitation of Putin's spurious rationale for the war – a war that ambassador Yuri Filatov described as "insane", albeit a few days before it began – and its tone-deaf response to alarm over Russian atrocities helped to make the mission itself a focal point for public fury.

Announcing the expulsion of four of Russia's 31 registered diplomats in Ireland, the Government said they were engaged in activities that "have not been in accordance with international standards of diplomatic behaviour", which means they were working as spies – and perhaps not very effective ones, given that the small and under-resourced Irish counter-intelligence services appear to have been aware of their work.

But the timing and the scale of the action – Ireland has on several previous occasions expelled a single Russian diplomat, most recently after the chemical attack in Salisbury, England, in 2018 – underlines that it is primarily a response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

The Government has so far resisted calls for Filatov's removal, largely out of concern that that would result in the forced closure of the small Irish embassy in Moscow, with consequences for Irish citizens living there. Ireland's action follows the expulsion of Russian embassy staff in Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. That implies a coordinated effort to degrade Russian intelligence-gathering while taking a stand against the war.


In the background, tensions have been simmering for years between Ireland and Russia over Dublin's belief that Moscow uses its embassy in south Dublin as a surveillance hub and as a beachhead into the EU. Russia's diplomatic team in the country is vastly disproportionate given the small Russian population here and the relatively modest trade ties between the two countries. Two years ago, citing national security, the Government passed a law to stop the expansion of the Russian embassy with new building at its five-acre site in Rathgar. Even before the invasion of Ukraine, bilateral relations were fraught.

The Russian embassy said the Government’s decision was “arbitrary and groundless” and denied the Irish characterisation of the work of the four expelled officials. The embassy also says that Putin’s Russia is a democracy and that there is no war going on in Ukraine.