Germany justifies expulsion of Russian diplomats over espionage threats

Germany expelled Russian diplomats mid-April in order "to reduce the presence of intelligence services" in the country, the government said, in justifying a decision that triggered retaliatory expulsions by the Kremlin.

Former cybersecurity head
Former head of Germany's cybersecurity agency Arne Schönbohm pictured in August 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Rolf Vennenbernd

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Monday that “the activity of these people was not in line with their diplomatic status”, adding it had been in contact with Russia in recent weeks about the matter.

Berlin had previously not provided a justification for the departure of the diplomats, a move that triggered the expulsion of some 20 German embassy staff in Moscow, which the ministry confirmed left on Monday.

“Unlike the members representing Russia in Germany, our colleagues have always concerned themselves with behaving in accordance to their diplomatic status,” the ministry said.

A close economic partner with Russia before the military offensive in Ukraine, Germany has since moved away from Moscow, financially and militarily supporting Kyiv in the conflict.

READ ALSO: Russia asked German spy for Ukraine war intel: report

Since the onset of the conflict in Ukraine, Russian espionage in Germany has grown at a rate rarely equalled in recent years, according to German security services.

In spring 2022, Germany already expelled some 40 Russian diplomats who Berlin believed to represent a threat to its security.

Last October, the head of German’s cybersecurity agency, Arne Schönbohm, was fired after news reports revealed his proximity to a cybersecurity consultancy believed to have contacts with Russian intelligence services.

A month later, a German reserve officer was handed a suspended prison sentence of a year and nine months for spying for Russia.

READ ALSO: German civil servants ‘probed on Russian spy suspicion’

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Scholz calls on coalition to ‘pull ourselves together’

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Saturday called on his fractious governing coalition to "pull ourselves together" following a dismal showing in EU parliament elections last week.

Scholz calls on coalition to 'pull ourselves together'

In power since the end of 2021, the three parties in government — Scholz’s Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens and the liberal FDP — have been at loggerheads on a wide range of issues including climate measures and budget spending.

“I think that this is one of the entirely justified criticisms of many citizens, namely that there is too much debate” within the coalition, Scholz told German television channel ZDF on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Italy.

“We need to pull ourselves together and stick together to reach agreements,” he added.

“The people have the right to demand that things change,” Scholz told public broadcaster ARD.

The three parties in the coalition suffered a severe defeat in the European elections, with the SPD achieving its worst result in a national election since 1949.

Subsequently, Scholz has faced mounting criticism within his own party.

On Saturday, however, Scholz told ZDF and ARD that he was “sure” that he would be the SPD’s next candidate for the chancellorship in the parliamentary elections scheduled for autumn 2025.

In the very short term, a new test awaits the coalition, which must reach an agreement on the 2025 budget by the beginning of July.

The FDP’s finance minister is opposed to any exceptions to the rules limiting debt and to any tax increases.

On the other hand, the SPD and the Greens are opposed to cuts in social welfare or climate protection.

The debate is also focused on increasing the resources allocated to the German army.