France to expel four Russian diplomats over UK spy poisoning

France will expel four Russian diplomats in response to the nerve agent poisoning of a former spy in the UK, the foreign ministry in Paris announced on Monday. It follows a similar move by Berlin.

France to expel four Russian diplomats over UK spy poisoning
Photo: AFP

France has told four Russian diplomats to leave the country within one week in response to the poisoning of a former Russian double agent in Britain, the foreign ministry said Monday, following a similar move by Berlin and the US.

“In solidarity with our British partners, we have notified today the Russian authorities of our decision to expel from French territory four Russian employees with diplomatic status,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement.

The foreign minister said the decision was taken following this months European Council meeting in which it was considered that the Salisbury spy poisoning “posed a serious threat to our collective security and international law.”

Le Drian said there was no other plausible explanation for the attack other than it was ordered by Moscow.

France were not the only ones to take action on Monday. The US announced it would expel 60 Russian “officials”, which Washington described as “spies” including 12 based at the United Nations. The Russian consulate in Seattle would also be closed.

“Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania also announced it would expel a small number of diplomats.

Following the spy attack in London Macron had given France's full support to London, which has already taken the step of expelling 23 diplomats. Moscow responded by sending home 23 British diplomats.

Macron said earlier this month he would announce unspecified “measures” over the poisoning of a Russian former double agent in Britain.

“I will announce the measures that we are going to take in the coming days,” Macron told reporters during a visit to central France. 

Following the attack a rare joint statement from France, Germany, the US and the UK was issued in London.

It read: “We, the leaders of France, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom, abhor the attack that took place against Sergei and Yulia Skripal” in the English city of Salisbury on March 4.

“We share the UK assessment that there is no plausible alternative explanation, and note that Russia's failure to address the legitimate request by the UK government further underlines its responsibility.”

A statement from the Elysée Palace on March 15th read: “Since the start of the week, Britain has kept France closely informed of the evidence gathered by British investigators and of elements demonstrating Russian responsibility in the attack.

“France shares Britain's assessment that there is no other plausible explanation and reiterates its solidarity with his ally,” Macron's office said


Senior French officer held on suspicion of spying for Russia

A senior French military officer stationed at a NATO base has been indicted and jailed on suspicion of spying for Russia, local media and sources said on Sunday.

Senior French officer held on suspicion of spying for Russia
A change of command ceremony at the base of NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance Force in Sigonella, Italy. It is not known at which Italian Nato base the officer was stationed. Photo: Falk Plankenhorn
The French army officer was stationed abroad, a judicial source said confirming details from Europe 1 radio. According to the report, the soldier was stationed on a NATO base in Italy and is suspected of espionage on behalf of Russia.
The French government confirmed it was investigating a senior military officer over a “security breach”.
“What I can confirm is that a senior officer is facing legal proceedings for a security breach,” Defence Minister Florence Parly told Europe 1 radio, CNews and Les Echos newspaper. She gave no further details.
The judicial source said the officer had been indicted and jailed on charges involving “intelligence with a foreign power that undermines the fundamental interests of the nation”.
He is being prosecuted for “delivering information to a foreign power”, “collecting information harming the fundamental interests of the nation with a view to delivering them to a foreign power” and “compromising the secrecy of national defence”, the source said.
Europe 1 said the officer was a lieutenant-colonel stationed with NATO in Italy and had been placed under investigation on suspicion of spying for Russia.
He speaks Russian and was seen in Italy with a man identified as an agent of the GRU, the Russian military intelligence
service, the report said. It said he is suspected of having supplied sensitive documents to Russian intelligence.
The man was arrested by DGSI intelligence service as he was about to leave for Italy at the end of his holidays in France, and is being held at a prison in Paris, Europe 1 said.