Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 131

Russia reacted angrily yesterday to an announcement by South Korea that it was expelling a Russian diplomat from the country. The South Korean action, announced by the Foreign Ministry, came four days after Russia had declared Cho Sung Woo–a South Korean diplomat and Seoul’s official secret service representative in Russia–persona non grata and had ordered him to leave Russia. South Korean authorities yesterday gave Oleg Abramkin, an embassy councilor in South Korea since 1994, seventy-two hours to leave that country. Abramkin was accused of “actions incompatible with his status,” standard diplomatic jargon for espionage. A South Korean Foreign Ministry statement expressed the Ministry’s hope that the expulsion decision would not be an obstacle to continued friendly relations with Russia. (Reuter, AP, July 8)

Although a further escalation of the spy wrangle would make little sense for either side, Moscow’s reaction yesterday suggested that the recriminations may not yet be over. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigory Karasin called Seoul’s action “absolutely unwarranted” and an “inequitable response to what happened in Russia.” Karasin, who protested to South Korea’s ambassador to Russia, also characterized yesterday’s expulsion of Abramkin as an “an unprovoked escalation of tension in Russian-Korean relations.” He added that the “responsibility for the possible consequences of this decision lies on the Korean side.” Karasin suggested that Moscow was particularly upset over the tit-for-tat expulsion of Abramkin for two reasons. First, Cho had allegedly been caught red-handed in accepting secret information from a Russian Foreign Ministry official. Second, Moscow considered it improper that the expulsion of Cho, a South Korean intelligence official, should be answered by Seoul with the expulsion of a Russian diplomat. (Russian agencies, July 8)

In South Korea, however, diplomats suggested that the reason for Seoul’s swift and severe retaliation lay in South Korea’s outrage over the publicity that Moscow gave to Cho’s expulsion. One Western diplomat was quoted as saying of the South Korean authorities that “they didn’t appreciate the way it was handled–the heavy press play, the way the [South Korean] ambassador was called in without being advised beforehand, the way the press was informed when she got there.” (Reuter, July 8)

In Moscow, meanwhile, some speculation circulated yesterday that Valentin Moiseev, the Russian Foreign Ministry official arrested for passing information to Cho, was in reality connected to Russia’s own Foreign Intelligence Service. A spokesman for the intelligence service refused to comment on the report. (Itar-Tass, July 8)