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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Expels 9 Poles In Tit-for-Tat Spy Feud




Russia declared nine employees of the Polish Embassy personae non grata Friday, one day after Poland moved to expel nine Russian Embassy employees on spying allegations, and Russia said the Poles must leave within a week.


The employees were found to be conducting activities not in line with their diplomatic posts, said a statement from the Foreign Ministry, which did not give the employees' names. The statement said the declaration was given in a diplomatic note to Polish Ambassador Andrzej Zalucki. There was no immediate reaction from the Polish government.


Friday's move had been expected after Moscow made clear that it planned to retaliate with tit-for-tat expulsions.


Russian intelligence sources said earlier Friday they believed the West had put pressure on Poland to expel the Russian diplomats as a way to "test" acting President Vladimir Putin.


"They [the Poles] would never have taken these actions on their own," Interfax quoted the sources as saying.


In the end, the incident would hit Warsaw harder than Moscow, they said.


"After the Russian side has taken its retaliatory measures the Poles will remain in Russia with hardly anything," they said.


Poland has 40 diplomats accredited in Moscow and another dozen in consulates in Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg, the Polish Embassy said.


Poland denied that it was pressured by Western allies to expel the Russians. "It was a sovereign decision of the Polish state," Foreign Ministry spokesman Pawel Dobrowolski said in Warsaw.


Poland on Thursday gave the nine Russian diplomats a week to leave the country after saying they had been engaged in spying, mainly in the political and economic sphere. No details have been given.


Polish newspapers reported Friday that those expelled included first and second secretaries at the 60-member embassy, housed in an imposing neo-classical building next to the Polish Defense Ministry.


The Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the move as "explicitly unfriendly and provocative" and said it would retaliate in due course - a pledge reiterated by Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov onFriday.


"Naturally, Russia will take the strictest measures appropriate to this unwarranted provocation by the Polish leadership," he said at a news conference.


Poland, part of the first wave of former Communist states to join NATO last year, has had uneasy relations with Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union.


Western experts have said Russian intelligence services would exploit links from the Cold War, when Poland belonged to the Warsaw Pact, to probe for secrets in NATO's new members.


But the scale of expulsions has infuriated Moscow, still angry about NATO expanding into its former sphere of influence.


"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," Interfax quoted the intelligence sources as saying, without elaborating.


"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," the sources said.


"If they want to test Putin then they [the Western powers] will see. But it is the Poles who will pay the price."