Sunday 23 September 2018

Russians prepare to retaliate if diplomats expelled from Ireland

Sources say that any move to impose sanctions on officials here will be viewed as the beginning of a diplomatic war

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arrives for an EU summit at the Europa building in Brussels on Thursday, March 22, 2018. Leaders from the 28 European Union nations meet for a two-day summit to assess the state of Brexit negotiations, the prospect of a trade war with the United States and how to react to Russia following to the nerve agent attack in Britain. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arrives for an EU summit at the Europa building in Brussels on Thursday, March 22, 2018. Leaders from the 28 European Union nations meet for a two-day summit to assess the state of Brexit negotiations, the prospect of a trade war with the United States and how to react to Russia following to the nerve agent attack in Britain. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)

Kevin Doyle and Shona Murray

RUSSIA is preparing for instant retaliation when Taoiseach Leo Varadkar orders the expulsion of diplomats in the coming days.

There was shock among Russian representatives in Ireland after the Government threatened action on the back of a nerve agent attack in the UK.

Sources say that any move to impose sanctions on officials here will be viewed as the beginning of a diplomatic war.

The Irish Independent has learned that Tánaiste Simon Coveney has put together a group, including senior officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs, An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces, to compile an ‘options paper’.

It will be delivered to the Taoiseach within the next 48 hours at which stage he seems certain to expel a number of Russian diplomats.

Russia’s Ambassador to Ireland Yurg Filatov said any attempt to eject officials would be viewed as an “unfriendly action”.

He implied that British Prime Minister Theresa May is manipulating the Taoiseach and other EU leaders “into fighting someone else’s unjust war”.

Mr Varadkar led the charge for a Europe-wide crackdown on the Kremlin during a private EU Council meeting in Brussels over the past two days.

Moscow continues to deny it is behind an attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury on March 4.

But following consultations with the UK and German governments, Ireland is now formally apportioning blame for the first known offensive use of a nerve toxin in Europe since World War II to Russia.

Sources say Mr Varadkar, along with French President Emmanuel Macron, was to the forefront of a decision to take additional punitive measures against Russia.

Mr Macron called the attack “unprecedented” and said Europe must respond: “It is an aggression against the security and sovereignty of an ally that is today a member of the European Union. It demands a reaction. This is clear.”

Mr Varadkar told reporters in Brussels that the only “plausible explanation” for the poisoning of Mr Skripal points to Russian involvement.

He confirmed “individual action” against suspected Russian agents operating in Ireland will be taken in the coming days.

Sources say the review under way will involve high-level intelligence from An Garda Síochána, which has already warned officials of a growing Russian presence in Ireland.

In particular, there is concern Russia is interested in targeting the large tech companies based in Ireland in order to obtain valuable data.

Already Russia is planning a major expansion of its embassy in south Dublin where it has 17 accredited diplomats. Ireland has only in the region of five diplomats based in Moscow.

Mr Filatov said: “The Irish authorities are within their rights to make their own decisions. My wish would be that one would take the interests of Irish people and Russian people into account, and the best interests of Irish/Russian relationships.”

Irish trade with Russia has plummeted since a tit-for-tat sanctions war began four years ago as a result of Russian military action in the Crimea.

But the ambassador said the two countries were “developing on a very positive and constructive note”.

“I can only hope that the Irish Government will use the best of the Irish common sense.”

Online Editors

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section