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Espionage

New Zealand a ‘laughing stock’, Austria a ‘bad joke’ for not expelling Russian spies as Western allies retaliate against Moscow

Nearly 150 suspected Russian spies have so far been expelled, including 23 dispatched by Britain

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 March, 2018, 2:29pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 March, 2018, 3:11pm

New Zealand and Austria are facing criticism for not expelling any Russian diplomats or spies.

Many of their allies are doing so in solidarity with Britain after its government blamed Russia for attacking a former spy with nerve agent in England.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Foreign Minister Winston Peters said that while other countries were expelling “undeclared Russian intelligence agents” – or spies – they haven’t found anybody in New Zealand fitting that profile.

But security analyst Paul Buchanan told Radio New Zealand the politicians were trying to wriggle out of their responsibilities and their stance has “made New Zealand a laughing stock”.

He said some of the Russians kicked out of other countries were regular diplomats and the expulsions were often only symbolic.

“This will reduce Russian intelligence collection capabilities in the targeted countries, but this is mostly about repudiating Russia’s actions abroad.

“Certainly the [Russian] embassy has intelligence officials. They are known to the New Zealand authorities, and those are exactly the people that are being expelled in other countries.”

More than 20 countries on Monday announced that they were expelling a total of more than 150 Russian diplomats, including 60 kicked out by the United States. Australia, Belgium, Ireland and Moldova joined them Tuesday.

There are 17 diplomats and staff in the Russian embassy in Wellington, including Ambassador Valery Tereshchenko, The New Zealand Herald reported.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Tuesday his country was expelling two Russian diplomats whom he described as undeclared intelligence officers.

He slammed Russia for “reckless and deliberate” conduct that he said harms global security and violates rules against the use of chemical weapons.

The Russian embassy in Canberra said the decision jeopardised bilateral relationships.

“It is astonishing how easily the allies of Great Britain follow it blindly contrary to the norms of civilised bilateral dialogue and international relations, and against … common sense,” it said.

Russia’s Ambassador Grigory Logvinov told reporters in Canberra a day after Turnbull’s announcement that the countries and groups expelling Russians are “not a significant number” and he repeated Russian leaders’ declarations that Russia was not responsible for the attack.

While New Zealand’s inability to locate spies drew ridicule, Austria came under fire from parts of the European Union for saying it couldn’t expel Russian diplomats on account of its neutrality.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s government, which includes nationalists that cooperate with Vladimir Putin’s party, declined to join the tough international response.

Austria is a “builder of bridges between East and West” and wants to “keep channels open” to Moscow, it said.

That position is “hardly compatible with EU membership” and there’s “a big difference between being part of the West and being a bridge between the West and the East,” former Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said Tuesday on Twitter.

Artis Pabriks, a former Latvian foreign minister who’s a member of the European Parliament, called Austria’s decision a “bad joke.”

He asked: “Which other EU policies/decisions Kurz does not apply to Austria?”

Austria, which has got most of its natural gas from Russia for 50 years, has a history of trying to moderate the EU’s approach to Moscow.

Here are all the countries that expelled Russian diplomats

United States: 60

Britain: 23

Ukraine: 13

Nato: 7

Canada: 4

France: 4

Germany: 4

Poland: 4

Czech Republic: 3

Lithuania: 3

Moldova: 3

Albania: 2

Australia: 2

Denmark: 2

Italy: 2

The Netherlands: 2

Spain: 2

Belgium: 1

Croatia: 1

Estonia: 1

Hungary: 1

Ireland: 1

Finland: 1

Latvia: 1

Macedonia: 1

Norway: 1

Romania: 1

Sweden: 1

Associated Press, Bloomberg, The Washington Post