This report has been updated.
Some countries — such as the United States, Poland and Slovakia — have accused Russian embassy staff of using diplomatic cover to engage in espionage. Others, including the Baltic states, have simply cited what they said were breaches of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Other nations, including Germany and Lithuania, have announced diplomat expulsions, prompted by scenes of Russian aggression in Bucha, a suburb northwest of Kyiv.
Moscow has called the spying accusations baseless. It has also responded in kind, expelling some Western diplomats from Russia.
It’s not the first time Western nations have banished Russian diplomats. In recent years, Russian diplomats were targeted for expulsion by President Barack Obama for hacking related to the 2016 presidential election. In 2018, over two dozen nations ejected a total of more than 150 Russian diplomats — the largest number since the Cold War — after intelligence operatives attacked Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal with a nerve agent in Salisbury, England.
While many nations in 2018 expelled a symbolic one or two diplomats, the United States expelled 60, and Britain, 23. Russia responded, appearing unfazed.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, over 400 Russian diplomats from about two dozen countries have been asked to leave their postings.
U.S. and European officials say a significant number of the expelled Russians are probably spies posing as diplomats. The expulsions may thus serve to dismantle large parts of Moscow’s spy networks and dramatically reduce Russian espionage and disinformation operations against the West, current and former officials said.
Here is the status of the expulsions:
Feb. 28: United States
The United States Mission to the United Nations announced it had begun a process of expelling 12 “intelligence operatives” from the Russian Permanent Mission to the United Nations, for having “abused their privileges” of U.S. residency by “engaging in espionage activities that are adverse to our national security.” The action had been in development for several months, the U.S. mission said.
March 4: Montenegro
Montenegro declared one diplomat of the Russian Embassy in Podgorica persona non grata, citing a breach of diplomatic norms.
March 14: Slovakia
Slovakia expelled three Russian Embassy staff members and urged the embassy to ensure that its employees follow diplomatic conventions.
A day later, Slovakia charged two people with espionage for Russia. One was a former military academy officer who was an “intelligence contact of Russian GRU officers … for whom he sought, collected and divulged information of strategic importance,” according to Slovakia police chief Stefan Hamran. The other man was described by Reuters as a contributor to a website shut for spreading disinformation.
March 18: Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bulgaria
In a coordinated move, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia expelled a total of 10 Russian diplomats “in connection with activities that are contrary to their diplomatic status and taking into account ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine,” Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said in a tweet.
The same day, Bulgaria announced it would kick out 10 diplomats, marking an unprecedented move for a country with deep traditional ties with Russia.
March 23: Poland
Poland “expelled 45 Russian spies pretending to be diplomats,” Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski said in a tweet. “With full consistency and determination, we are breaking up the agents of the Russian secret services in our country.”
In an interview with The Washington Post, Stanislaw Zaryn, a spokesman for Poland’s security services, said the expelled diplomats included people known to be working for, or aiding, Russia’s secret services, while benefiting from diplomatic status in Poland. The security agency found that the activities of the 45 Russians have served “the objectives of the Russian undertakings designed to undermine the stability of Poland and its allies,” according to a government statement.
Russia’s ambassador to Poland said embassy employees have been doing “normal diplomatic and trade work,” according to Russia’s state-run news agency, Tass.
Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Lukasz Jasina said the individuals had five days to leave the country — but one particularly dangerous individual had 48 hours. Zaryn told the Associated Press that person had been in contact with a Polish individual working in Warsaw’s registry office, who had been detained on suspicion of espionage for the Russian secret services on March 17.
“The illegal activities of these diplomats can also pose a threat to those people who left their country to flee the war and found protection in our country,” Jasina said.
March 24: Russia
Russia said it informed Montenegro that it would be expelling a diplomat from Russia.
March 28: Russia
Russia took retaliatory action by expelling three employees of the Embassy of Slovakia in Moscow.
March 29: Belgium, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Ireland
Belgium ordered 21 Russian diplomats to leave the country for activities related to espionage or unlawful influence peddling, the Belgian Foreign Ministry confirmed on March 29.
The Netherlands said it was expelling 17 Russians described as intelligence officers. The Czech Republic ejected one diplomat. Ireland told four senior Russian officials that they had to leave for actions considered “not in accordance with international standards of diplomatic behavior.”
March 29: Russia
Russia announced it was canceling the accreditation of 10 diplomats from the Baltic states, denouncing the “provocative” and “groundless” action taken against Russian diplomats less than two weeks earlier. Russia expelled the same number of diplomats who were expelled from the respective nations: three each from Estonia and Latvia, and four from Lithuania.
March 30: Slovakia
Citing the Vienna Convention, Slovakia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Juraj Tomaga announced that the nation would reduce the staff of the Russian Embassy in Bratislava by 35.
April 4: Germany, France, Lithuania
In a move prompted by scenes of what she described as “unbelievable brutality” in the Ukrainian city of Bucha, Germany’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, said Germany had declared 40 Russian diplomats “undesirable persons.” In a statement, Baerbock said the diplomats had “worked against our freedom” and posed a threat to the cohesion of German society.
France’s Foreign Affairs Ministry also said it would expel Russian diplomats “whose activities are contrary to our security interests.” The ministry said this “action is part of a European approach. Our first responsibility is always to ensure the safety of French people and Europeans.” The move could affect as many as three dozen diplomats.
Lithuania’s Foreign Ministry announced that the Russian ambassador would have to leave Lithuania, and that the government would also close Russia’s consulate in Klaipeda, Lithuania. The Lithuanian ambassador to Moscow is also returning to Lithuania in the “near future,” the ministry announced.
“Lithuania is lowering the level of diplomatic representation with Russia, this way expressing its full solidarity with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabriel Landsbergis said in a statement.
“What the world has seen in Bucha, unfortunately, may only be the beginning. With other liberated cities, we may see more horrific examples of war crimes,” Landsbergis said. “All war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Russian armed forces in Ukraine will not be forgotten.”
April 5: Denmark, Italy, Slovenia, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Latvia and the E.U.’s diplomatic service
As the fallout from the killings of civilians in Bucha continued, more European countries, along with the European Union’s diplomatic service, moved to expel Russian diplomats and staffers.
Amid accusations of spying, Denmark’s Foreign Ministry said on Twitter that 15 Russian diplomats working at the Russian Embassy in Copenhagen would be expelled. “They pose a threat to our national security. It’s in our mutual interests to maintain diplomatic ties, but we will not accept Russian espionage on Danish soil,” Foreign Affairs Minister Jeppe Kofod said on Twitter.
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said his country was expelling 30 Russian diplomats “for reasons of national security.” Russia promised to retaliate against Denmark and Italy, Russian media reported.
Also citing security concerns, as well as the killings in Bucha and destruction of Mariupol, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares announced that his country was expelling “around 25” diplomats.
The Portuguese government announced that 10 officials of Russia’s diplomatic mission there were personae non gratae.
Slovenia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement that it summoned the ambassador of the Russian Federation, Timur Eyvazov, “to express dismay and the harshest protest at the clear evidence that the armed forces of the Russian Federation committed war crimes against the civilian population in the Ukrainian town of Bucha.” It also said it would reduce the number of diplomatic and administrative-technical staff at the Russian Embassy, which was the largest in Slovenia at 41 staff members but has been decreased to eight, the same number as Slovenia has in Moscow, Euractiv reported.
Sweden said it would expel three Russian diplomats, accusing them of spying. “It is because they are not following the Vienna Convention and they are undertaking illegal intelligence-gathering operations,” Foreign Minister Ann Linde told reporters.
Estonia announced that it would shut two Russian consular outposts in the cities of Narva and Tartu and would expel 14 staff members, among them seven diplomats, while Latvia’s foreign minister said the country would expel 13 Russian diplomats and employees and close two Russian consulates.
Taking into account atrocities committed by Russian armed forces in Ukraine, Latvia has decided to close Russian Consulates General in Daugavpils and Liepaja and to expel 13 Russian diplomats and employees— Edgars Rinkēvičs (@edgarsrinkevics) April 5, 2022
The European External Action Service, the diplomatic service of the E.U., announced in a news release that 19 members of Russia’s permanent mission to the E.U. were declared “personae non-gratae” and would have to leave Belgium.
“The decision comes at the time of mounting reports about atrocities committed by Russia’s armed forces in a number of occupied Ukrainian towns that have now been liberated, notably Bucha,” the release said, adding that the E.U. “stands in full solidarity with Ukraine.”
April 6: Norway, Greece
Norway declared three Russian diplomats personae non gratae, citing activities “incompatible” with their diplomatic status. Greece announced that 12 members of the Russian diplomatic and consular missions in Greece were now personae non gratae.
April 8: Japan
Japan announced that it would expel eight Russian diplomats. Foreign Ministry officials told Reuters that the decision affected several trade officials, but not the Russian ambassador, Mikhail Galuzin. Along with the expulsion of officials, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also announced that his nation would ban imports of certain Russian goods, including lumber and vodka, and would prohibit new Japanese investment in Russia.
Kishida said Japan would ensure the safety of Russia-based Japanese nationals in case of retaliation.
April 11: France
France expelled six Russian diplomats accused of espionage. The French Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the expulsion came after “a very long investigation” by the General Directorate of Internal Security revealed that six operatives with Russian intelligence services were working under diplomatic cover in France.
April 19: Russia
Moscow declared diplomats from Belgium and the Netherlands personae non gratae. The decision affects 15 Dutch diplomats and 12 Belgian diplomats — two-thirds of the nation’s diplomatic staff, the Belgian foreign minister told Politico.
April 25: Russia
Russia said it would expel 40 German diplomats in a “symmetrical response” to Berlin’s “unfriendly decision” to remove Russian diplomats.
German Foreign Minister Baerbock said in a statement that in contrast with her country’s diplomats, the expelled Russian diplomats “did not serve diplomacy for a single day.”
Quentin Ariès, Rick Noack, Emily Rauhala, Isaac Stanley-Becker and Anabelle Timsit contributed to this report.
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