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Europe has kicked out over 400 suspected Russian spies this year alone, British intelligence chief says

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This article by Jake Epstein was originally published by Business Insider.

A top British intelligence official revealed on Wednesday that European countries have expelled hundreds of Russian officials who are believed to be spies this year. 

During an annual speech reviewing the UK’s threat level, MI5 Director General Ken McCallum praised the intelligence community for its role in the ongoing Ukraine war and highlighted a coordinated international response against Russia’s clandestine operations.    

“This year, a concerted campaign has seen a massive number of Russian officials expelled from countries around the world, including more than 600 from Europe — over 400 of whom we judge are spies,” McCallum said, speaking from the Thames House in London.

He said these actions have “struck the most significant strategic blow against the Russian Intelligence Services in recent European history,” and in addition to widespread sanctions levied by Western countries against Moscow, the scale of the efforts have taken Russian President Vladimir Putin “by surprise.”

In the wake of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, hundreds of Russian diplomatic staff, many of whom were suspected of being intelligence operatives, were kicked out of embassies and missions across the continent — including in European Union counties. 

Related: Russians scheming to steal US military technology arrested

Evgeny Buryakov was a Russian spy arrested in the U.S. in 2015. (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

Poland alone booted dozens of Russian diplomats in late March. The country’s intelligence chief accused them at the time of pushing false narratives and propaganda against the West instead of actually pursuing diplomatic services.  

McCallum said the expulsions in 2022 are modeled after a UK-led international response to “Salisbury in 2018” — a reference to an attempted assassination against GRU defector Sergei Skripal by Russian intelligence operatives in Salisbury, England. In response to the incident, European countries expelled hundreds of Russians. 

“Alongside the wave of expulsions, the other part of that template is staying the course and preventing Russian intelligence restocking,” McCallum said. “In the UK’s case, since our removal of 23 Russian spies posing as diplomats, we have refused on national security grounds over 100 Russian diplomatic visa applications.”

McCallum added that the UK must be ready for years of Russian aggression in the future, both secretly and in plain sight. 

Russian spies and operatives have been suspected of carrying out attacks like bombings, poisonings, sabotage, and assassination attempts for years, and Europe has tried to combat Moscow’s increasingly hostile activities in other countries.

For example, NATO created the Joint Intelligence and Security Division in 2016 to take on intelligence challenges.   

Feature Image: Russian President Putin during a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Russian Presidential Press and Information Office)

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