Sunday 16 June 2019

'Uncalled for, senseless and regrettable' - Russian ambassador criticises decision to expel diplomat from Ireland

  • Russian diplomat will be expelled from Ireland
  • Move as part of Europe-wide solidarity being show with the UK
  • Russia's Ambassador to Ireland Yury Filatov warns that any expulsions would be viewed as an 'unfriendly action'
  • Trump administration yesterday said 60 diplomats would be expelled
Russian Ambassador to Ireland Yury Filatov pictured leaving the Dept of Foregin Affairs this morning. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Russian Ambassador to Ireland Yury Filatov pictured leaving the Dept of Foregin Affairs this morning. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Russian Ambassador to Ireland Yury Filatov pictured leaving the Dept of Foregin Affairs this morning. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Sergei and Julia Skripal
Yulia and Sergei Skripal were poisoned in the UK

Kevin Doyle, Catherine Devine and John Downing

The Russian Ambassador to Ireland has described a decision to expel a diplomat as "totally unwarranted, uncalled for, senseless and regrettable".

Yury Filatov said this evening that the move by Tánaiste Simon Coveney in response to the Salisbury nerve agent attack "would not go unanswered".

He has alerted Moscow and President Vladimir Putin will decide how to formally response in the coming days.

Mr Filatov said Irish-Russian relations were damaged by the controversy but he hopes they can be repaired.

Speaking about the nerve agent attack on an ex-spy in the U.K. that has led to the worldwide expulsion of Russian diplomats, he said: "All we are witnessing is a complete cover up." 

He described the global reaction as "political theatre".

Yulia and Sergei Skripal were poisoned in the UK
Yulia and Sergei Skripal were poisoned in the UK

However, the diplomat chosen by the Department of Foreign Affairs for expulsion will leave the country "soon".

The move sees Ireland join several other countries including the United States and European Union member states in expelling Russian diplomats after the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain earlier this month.

Speaking this afternoon, Mr Coveney said that all EU member states should stand in "unqualified solidarity with the United Kingdom".

“At last week’s European Council meeting, EU leaders unanimously agreed with the United Kingdom government’s assessment that the Russian Federation is highly likely to have been responsible for the attack in Salisbury on 4 March 2018, and that there is no plausible alternative explanation. They affirmed that all EU Member States stand in unqualified solidarity with the United Kingdom in the face of this grave challenge to our shared security.

“The use of chemical weapons, including the use of any toxic chemicals as weapons, by anyone, anywhere, is particularly shocking and abhorrent. The attack in Salisbury was not just an attack against the United Kingdom, but an affront to the international rules-based system on which we all depend for our security and wellbeing. 

“In light of the European Council Conclusions, and following an assessment conducted by the security services and relevant Departments, I have briefed the Government on my intended course of action.

"The Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has subsequently met with the Ambassador of the Russian Federation and informed him that the accreditation of a member of his staff with diplomatic status is to be terminated, in line with the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The individual in question is required to leave the jurisdiction."

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said Ireland cannot rely on the UK intelligence services’ advice to expel Soviet diplomats.

Ms McDonald joined the Government and other parties in condemning the chemical attacks on the former Soviet spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, which she described as “deplorable.”

But she said the Dáil needed to see evidence to support the decision to expel one Soviet diplomat from Dublin. “Simply citing solidarity with Britain is not sufficient,” she told the Taoiseach.

Ms McDonald added that this was akin to asking people to "trust Boris Johnson."

Ms McDonald asked if the Government was going to brief members of other parties on the issue. She also argued that the Fine Gael party in government was acting against Irish neutrality.

The Sinn Féin leader pointed to the Government decision to join the EU’s “Pesco” security and defence cooperation. She also said a recent discussion paper by the four Fine Gael MEPs on defence suggested “tearing up” Irish military neutrality.

The Taoiseach defended the expulsion decision and said the EU leaders’ stance last week was based on solidarity with Britain.  But the Dublin expulsion was based on security advice from garda and army intelligence services.

Mr Varadkar said the Government had already briefed Fianna Fáil as part of the Confidence and Supply Agreement underpinning the minority Coalition. The other Dáil parties could avail of similar briefings if they wished.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett has demanded this afternoon that the Dáil should vote on the decision to expel a Russian diplomat.

He said move by Mr Coveney was “reckless and dangerous move” that fundamentally undermines Ireland’s neutrality and drags Ireland into an escalating cold war.

Mr Barrett said his comments were not an endorsement of the Putin regime, which he described as “a rotten authoritarian and warmongering regime,” but any decision by Ireland to undertake such an action should be based on real evidence, which has not been provided.

The country's most senior garda has said he is satisfied with the accuracy of an intelligence report which led to the expulsion of a Russian diplomat.

Acting Commissioner Donal O'Cualain stated that the gardai's focus on espionage has shifted to an international dimension in recent years and that threats remain both domestically and abroad.

The senior garda added that he couldn't discuss how the assessment was made, but said that gardai had built up a "considerable capacity" in that area over recent years.

"These are things we do on a daily basis in An Garda Siochana. We have built up a considerable capability in the area of security over long number of years dealing with our own home domestic situation and more recently with the international threat. We need to be constantly vigilant in that area," Mr O'Cualain said.

"Over the years we co-operate with our colleagues in the Defence Forces and with other agencies in relation to those assessments.

"We also co-operate with our security partners across the world."

He was speaking at the 40th annual delegate conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) taking place in Tullow, Carlow.

"Historically we had our own issues in this country to deal with and we still have a focus in that area as well. In more recent times the situation has shifted to a more international setting.

I suppose our focus on that space over a number we are at the cutting edge in that area," Mr O'Cualain said.

When asked if the gardai were basing their reports on those of British intelligence agencies, the Acting garda Commissioner said: “I am not going to go into how the assessment was made. We have a considerable capacity built in this area."

The garda chief also added that he was "absolutely" satisfied with the accuracy of the intelligence report.

The move will be met with swift retaliation from the Kremlin, which denies any involvement in the poisoning of an ex-spy Skripal on British soil earlier this month.

Mr Filatov has already warned that any expulsions would be viewed as an "unfriendly action".

Officially Russia has 17 accredited diplomats based in Ireland along with an unknown number of support staff.

By contrast, Ireland has just nine diplomats in Moscow.

A wave of co-ordinated action by EU and Nato countries yesterday was the biggest Western expulsion of Russian diplomats since the height of the Cold War.

Prime Minister Theresa May has told the Cabinet that 23 other countries have now expelled more than 115 Russian diplomats in the wake of the Salisbury nerve agent attack.

Warning of an "unacceptably high" number of Russian spies in the US, the Trump administration said 60 diplomats would be expelled - all said to be Russian intelligence agents working under diplomatic cover.

The EU states telling Russian diplomats to leave their countries are: Germany (4), France (4), Poland (4), Lithuania (3), Czech Republic (3), Denmark (2), Italy (2), Spain (2), Netherlands (2), Estonia (1), Romania (1), Croatia (1), Finland (1) and Latvia (1).

Meanwhile, Australia has become the latest country to expel Russian diplomats in a show of support for Britain over the Salisbury nerve agent attack.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called it a "disgraceful" and "brazen" attack and said his country "cannot and will not stand by and watch when the sovereignty of our allies and partners is threatened".

Earlier, Mr Turnbull and minister for foreign affairs Julie Bishop issued a joint statement saying two Russian diplomats identified as "undeclared intelligence officers" would be directed to leave the country within seven days.

Ireland previously ordered a Russian official to leave the State in 2011 following an investigation into the use of false Irish passports by Russian spies based in the US.

However, relations have been mostly benign in the interim, although trade has fallen significantly in recent years due to a tit-for-tat sanctions war at EU level as a result of Russian military action in Crimea.

Mr Skripal and his daughter Yulia remain in a critical condition after they were poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok in Salisbury on March 4.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said Russia had "spectacularly failed" in efforts to "divide and intimidate the Western alliance".

She also claimed to have evidence that Russia has investigated ways of distributing nerve agents for assassinations.

More to follow

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