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Belgium, Netherlands, Ireland, Czech Republic expel over 40 Russian diplomats

Belgium, Netherlands, Ireland, Czech Republic expel over 40 Russian diplomats
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Tuesday, 29 March, 2022, 19:30

In a coordinated decision, Belgium is expelling 21 Russian diplomats, amid Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, on suspicion of espionage, country's foreign minister Sophie Wilmes said on Tuesday. Wilmes, who made the announcement to Parliament and on Twitter, said the move was coordinated with neighbouring Netherlands, which said it was expelling 17 Russian diplomats, news agency AFP reported.

Ireland, too, asked four Russian diplomats to leave the country. The Czech Republic also expelled one member of the diplomatic staff at Russia's embassy in Prague, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday.

The decision comes as many other Western countries also expelled Russian diplomats, including the United States, which kicked out 12 intelligence operatives in early March, shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine. Russia retaliated last week by handing the US a list of American diplomats declared "persona non grata".

Wilmes said her country was kicking out 21 diplomats from the Russian embassy in Brussels and consulate in Antwerp, giving them two weeks to leave.

Ireland's foreign minister Simon Coveney said four "senior officials" from Russia's embassy in Dublin had been told to leave for engaging in activities "not... in accordance with international standards of diplomatic behaviour" -- code for spying.

“Together with our allies, we are reducing the Russian intelligence presence in the EU,” the Czech foreign ministry said.

Russia now considers all EU countries, along with the United States and allies including Japan, Britain and Australia, to be "hostile" countries.

Poland, an EU country neighbouring Ukraine, last week expelled 45 Russian diplomats over alleged espionage, prompting Moscow to accuse Warsaw of embarking on "a dangerous escalation".

Russia was left virtually isolated in the UN General Assembly on March 2 when an overwhelming majority of countries -- 141 in total -- voted to adopt a non-binding resolution demanding a halt to Moscow's war in Ukraine.

Just five countries voted against the resolution: Russia, Syria, North Korea, Belarus and Eritrea. Another 35 abstained, including China.