Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 16

As expected, a major spy row between Russia and Poland escalated over the weekend when the Russian government announced on January 21 that it was expelling nine Polish diplomats for “activities inconsistent with their status.” The number of Poles declared persona non grata matched the number of Russians expelled by Poland one day earlier–also on allegations of spying. Moscow’s quick retaliation, not to mention its harsh rhetoric in condemning the initial Polish action, suggested the degree of its fury over the incident. On January 20 a note published by the Russian Foreign Ministry accused Poland of having taken an “unfriendly and provocative step… aimed at undermining relations between the two countries” (see the Monitor, January 21).

Unnamed Russian security officials suggested over the weekend that Moscow’s anger was in part a result of the “unprecedentedly” large number of diplomats expelled from Poland. But the same sources also indicated that Moscow believed Warsaw’s action to have been part of a broader and darker plan–one foisted by the United States and NATO on new member-state Poland–aimed at testing the mettle of Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin. “This is an unprecedented step clearly dictated to the Poles from outside…. It is not difficult to work out which of the Western allies pushed Poland to this step,” the officials were quoted as saying. “In essence this is a test of the toughness of Acting President Vladimir Putin–how he is able to take a blow and how he replies.” It goes without saying that the same sources were certain Putin would be up to the task. Ultimately, they said, “it is the Poles who will pay the price” for the spy wrangle (Reuters, Russian agencies, January 21).

Little information regarding the specifics of the dual expulsions has been made public. None of the eighteen diplomats involved have been identified, nor have their alleged espionage activities been described. The Polish government on January 20 did say that the nine Russians had been expelled for espionage activities conducted mostly in “economic and political areas.” Whether NATO-related security targets were involved remains unclear. A Russian news agency, meanwhile, quoted Polish Foreign Ministry sources in Warsaw on January 21 as saying that two of the expelled Russians are embassy first secretaries. A Polish intelligence official was quoted as saying that all nine Russians are agents of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, one of the chief successor organizations to the Soviet-era KGB (Itar-Tass, January 21).