Staunton, December 26 – Although there has not been any single cases equivalent to the mutual expulsion in 2018 of Russian diplomats by Britain and British diplomats by Russia after the Skripal case, the past year has set records for expulsions of Russian diplomats by other countries and Russian expulsions of foreign diplomats in response, Aleksandr Mineyev says.
This pattern of one country expelling diplomats for conduct unbecoming of diplomatic service, a euphemism for spying, has a long history, but its growth in the Russian case this year has passed under the radar screen of many because it has involved mostly smaller countries rather than the great powers.
The Novaya gazeta journalist says Bulgaria has expelled five Russian diplomats, the Czech Republic two, Slovakia three, Norway, one, Austria, one, the Netherlands, two, and Columbia, two. Russia has responded in kind, and the combination, Mineyev says, justifies calling 2020 “the year of the spy” (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/12/26/88551-god-shpiona).
Expelling diplomats is not only about limiting espionage, of course, but it is an inexpensive way of indicating one government’s unhappiness with another, a way far less costly than imposing sectoral sanctions but more like the imposition of personal sanctions, something Western countries increasingly have done regarding prominent Russians.