Several European countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Slovenia, Austria, Poland, and Greece have expelled large numbers of Russian diplomats since the start of the invasion of Ukraine.
For its part, the United States sent 12 members of the Russian diplomatic mission to the United Nations in early March. In some cases, these expulsions are officially assumed to be in response to the invasion of Ukraine and abuses that Westerners blame on the Russian military.
In several other cases, she was accompanied by accusations of espionage. Thus, Washington indicated that it wants to punish the customers “The Russian expedition who offended” of their diplomatic status “By engaging in espionage activities contrary to our national security.”.
Moscow responded with parallel measures
“Reducing the possibilities of communication at the diplomatic level in these difficult circumstances.” denotes a “Lack of insight that will further complicate the communication necessary to find solutions”Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the press in response to the expulsions decided by the European Union.
“This will inevitably lead to retaliation.”. Moscow announced, on Friday, the expulsion of 45 Polish diplomats from its embassy in Moscow and its consulates general in Irkutsk, Kaliningrad and Saint Petersburg.
In March, Ukrainian authorities published 600 names presented as Russian agents abroad. AFP was unable to obtain confirmation that the since expelled diplomats were on the list. But Russian officers have already been publicly confused in several cases, particularly by specialized websites, in recent months.
And the services themselves necessarily know a certain number of them. “We are vigilant, and we know more or less who is doing what.”, explains to AFP a Western security source. The Russians have also not been very careful in Europe in recent years, where they have been caught red-handed in murder cases, attempted murders, and other covert operations.
“They make mistakes”
“The fact that we were able to track them down shows that they made mistakes.”notes this source that invokes in particular commando members “Almost all of them were identified because their covert practices were not up to standard.”.
Although the clients’ names were not known to western agencies, “The fact that it is being reported publicly may create an opportunity.”explains to AFP Damien Boyfield, an intelligence expert at the University of Glasgow.
“There is a very clear communication strategy here from the Ukrainian government to pressure the Westerners and the rest of the world in every possible way.”.
However, the effects of these evictions are so complex that it is difficult to assess. “The coordinated expulsions of these pseudo Russian diplomats – the largest since World War II – will have a serious impact on Russian espionage.”Confirms Nathan Sales, a former US ambassador who now works as an analyst at the Soufan think tank.
Russian embassies spy nests
“Russian embassies are nests for spies and the loss of many agents will complicate the Kremlin’s ability to gather information, sow division and influence the continent’s elections.”
Alexandre Papaimanuel, an intelligence expert and professor at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques (IEP) in Paris, confirms that “Embassies have always been distinguished information centers in collecting information, processing it, adopting it in intelligence and transmitting it to strategic decision makers.”. He remembers that on April 5, 1983, during the resounding espionage story – The Farewell Affair – “Two buses came to transport 47 Soviet diplomats expelled from the USSR embassy. This gives an idea of how many spies were in Paris at that time.”.
However, Moscow would still have informants in Europe, in the former Soviet bloc republics, but also in major capitals such as Paris, Berlin or London. It also has a back up there that is displayed in broad daylight.
And it is audacious to imagine the collapse of his networks in a few days, warns Damien van Pouvelde. Because when men change, connections remain. “There is continuity in the service. There are archives.”He remembers emphasizing it “Reciprocity in expulsions makes it a zero-sum game.”