Slovakia expelled three Russian diplomats on suspicion of spying, marking a shift in the Nato and European Union member’s approach towards Moscow.
The three officials “carried out activities violating the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations” and must leave the country by the end of the week, Slovakia’s Foreign Ministry said. The decision was taken last week by the new administration of Prime Minister Igor Matovic.
In the past, Slovakia has refrained from retaliation against Russia, which provides most of its energy needs.
The country of 5.3 million didn’t take part when the US, Nato and 25 allies including Germany and France expelled nearly 130 Russian diplomats in support of the UK, after the 2018 poisoning there of ex-spy Sergei Skripal. Former parliamentary Speaker Andrej Danko also made frequent trips to Moscow to meet Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, who’s on EU and US sanctions lists.
“There are times when you have to set a red line even for friends,” Matovic said on Facebook. “The Russians are our Slavic brothers, and Russia is our trading partner. But Slovakia is a sovereign state, not a banana republic.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry will respond to the expulsions with reciprocal diplomatic measures, Interfax reported.
Russian spies have increased activity in the eastern part of the EU, seeking to exploit simmering anti-Western sentiment in former Soviet satellites. In the neighboring Czech Republic, two Russian diplomats were expelled in June after fabricating a hoax about a planned attack on local politicians.
The Slovak move follows a report from the investigative journalist group Bellingcat that an accomplice of a Russian secret service-backed assassin of a Georgian asylum seeker in Berlin obtained his visa to the EU’s passport-free Schengen area at the Slovak consulate in St. Petersburg. The expulsion was also related to the visa “abuse,” the ministry said.
The US “applauds” the decision, according to State
Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus. Slovakia “has sent a clear signal that it will not tolerate Russia’s politically-motivated criminal acts on Slovak soil or in Europe,” she said on Twitter.