Germany orders four Russian consulates on its soil closed

Germany will drastically reduce Moscow's diplomatic presence on its soil after Russia slashed the number of people Berlin can employ in its embassies and institutions in Russia, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Wednesday.

The exterior of the German embassy in Moscow
Pictured is the German embassy in Moscow. Embassy staff handle most diplomatic duties after the German Foreign Office shut down most of its consulates in Russia in a tit-for-tat move. Photo: Natalia KOLESNIKOVA / AFP

“We have decided to withdraw consent for the operation of four of the five Russian consulates operating in Germany,” the spokesman told a regular government press conference.

“This was communicated to the Russian foreign ministry today,” he added.

The German foreign ministry said at the weekend that hundreds of civil servants and local employees working for German institutions in Russia had been asked to leave the country.

Moscow had put a 350 limit on the number of German personnel in Russia, said the foreign ministry spokesman.

“In order to be able to meet the Russian requirements for limiting our staff, the government has decided to close the German consulates in Kaliningrad, Yekaterinburg and Novosibirsk,” the spokesman said on Wednesday.

Operations will be considerably reduced and will be discontinued by November, he said.

Germany’s embassy in Moscow and its consulate in St Petersburg will not be affected.

“For the Russian presence in Germany, our decisions apply reciprocally… in order to ensure a balance of the mutual presences both in terms of personnel and structure,” the spokesman said.

According to the German foreign ministry, Russia will slash the number of people that Berlin can employ in its embassies or institutions in Russia in the education and cultural sectors starting from June.

Several hundred people are affected, including officials from the embassy and consulate, but mostly employees of the Goethe cultural institute in the country, German schools and nurseries, the ministry said.

READ ALSO: Germany justifies expulsion of Russian diplomats over espionage threats

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Two Germans charged with treason in Russia spying case

Two German men been charged with high treason for gathering state secrets from Germany's BND foreign intelligence agency and passing them to Russia, prosecutors said on Friday.

Two Germans charged with treason in Russia spying case

The pair, named as Carsten L. and Arthur E., are accused of working together with a Russian businessman to “procure sensitive information from the BND’s portfolio” and hand it over to Russia’s FSB security services.

Carsten L., an employee of the BND, was arrested in December 2022 and his accomplice was detained a month later as he arrived at Munich airport from the United States.

Carsten L. is accused of passing on documents from the BND to Arthur E., who in turn passed them on to the contact in Russia, the prosecutors said in a statement. 

In September and October 2022, Carsten L. allegedly printed out or took screenshots of nine internal BND documents.

He then passed on the information to Arthur E., who took digital images of the documents to Moscow, printed them out and handed them over to the FSB.

The Russian businessman is said to have arranged the meetings in Moscow and paid for Arthur E.’s flights.

The information was classified and leaking it posed a serious risk to German security, the prosecutors said.

The FSB is said to have paid Carsten L. at least 450,000 euros ($482,000) and Arthur E. at least 400,000 euros, with Arthur E. picking up the payments in cash from Moscow.

On his way back to Germany, Carsten E. arranged for his accomplice to be “smuggled” through customs at the airport.

If found guilty of high treason, the suspects could be jailed for life.

Russia and Germany have been at odds over several cases of alleged spying since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in early 2022.

The BfV German domestic security agency in June warned against the risk of an “aggressive Russian espionage operation” as Moscow pursues its war on Ukraine.

Western sanctions against Russia and support for Ukraine’s military defence meant the Kremlin had an “increased interest” in information gathering, the BfV said in its annual report.

In August, a German national working for the military was arrested on suspicion of spying for Russia.

In November 2022, a German man was handed a suspended sentence for passing information to Russian intelligence services while working as a reserve officer for the German army.