WARSAW, Poland -- Poland ordered the expulsion of 45 Russians whom the government identified as intelligence officers using their diplomatic status as cover to operate in the country, officials said Wednesday.
Poland's Internal Security Agency said it has asked the Foreign Ministry to urgently remove the Russians, who were described as a danger to Poland's security, from the country.
“These are people who ... operate using their diplomatic status, but in reality conduct intelligence activities against Poland,” said Stanislaw Zaryn, the state security spokesman.
Russian Ambassador Sergei Andreev was summoned to the Foreign Ministry and given a note informing him of the expulsion of 45 employees of the embassy and Russia’s trade mission to Poland.
Andreev, who is not among those being expelled, lashed out at the decision, telling reporters after the meeting that those being kicked out of Poland “were carrying out normal diplomatic and trade activity.” He said Russia has the right to respond on a reciprocal basis.
Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Lukasz Jasina said the Russians were being given five days to leave the country, with the exception of one particularly dangerous man who must leave in 48 hours.
“Russia has been waging a barbaric war against Ukraine for over three weeks. We and other Western countries are treated as a key enemy,” Jasina said.
“Further tolerating this type of illegal activity by Russian services would create a particular threat to Poland’s security, but also to our NATO and European Union allies, with whom we coordinate all such activities.”
He didn't give a specific reason for why the alleged spies were being expelled but suggested that they pose an especially grave threat at a time that Poland is accepting large numbers of refugees from Ukraine.
“The illegal activities of these diplomats can also pose a threat to those people who left their country to flee the war and found protection in our country," he said.
Zaryn, the state security spokesman, said the decision to expel them now was made “taking into account Russian aggression against Ukraine.”
He told The Associated Press that he was not aware of Poland ever having expelled so many intelligence agents at ones — a number that makes up about half of Russia’s diplomatic staff in Poland.
He said the agency's work also showed that the Russian services are increasingly on the offensive and "are acting aggressively against Poland.”
Zaryn said in a separate statement that the security agency found that the activities of the 45 Russians have served “the objectives of the Russian undertakings designed to undermine the stability of Poland and its allies in the international arena and poses a threat to the interests and security of our country.”
The Polish state security service also said that it detained a Polish citizen on suspicion of espionage for the Russian secret services. The suspect, who was detained on March 17, worked in Warsaw’s registry office and had access to city archives.
“Given the nature of documents kept by those units, the activity of the suspect posed a threat to both internal and external security of Poland,” the agency said in a statement.
The Russian who was given only 48 hours to leave Poland had been in contact with the Polish suspect, Zaryn told the AP.
Just days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Poland also arrested a Spanish citizen of Russian origin suspected of conducting intelligence activities for Russia. The man was detained in Przemysl, a Polish border town where hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees have come through in recent weeks.
Poland’s security agency said the man was an agent for the Russian military intelligence, the GRU, and was “profiting from his status of journalist, which enabled him to freely travel around the world and Europe, including military conflict zones and territories marked with political tensions.”