Slovakia has expelled 35 staff from the Russian Embassy in Bratislava, based on information acquired by Slovak intelligence services about the activities of Russian diplomats breaching the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The Foreign and European Affairs Ministry summoned Russian Ambassador Igor Bratchikov to hand him over a diplomatic note on the decision.
"In this context, it is with regret that we must state that, following the previous expulsions of Russian diplomats, the Russian diplomatic mission has not shown any interest in the fair conduct on our soil in the last two years," said the ministry, as quoted by the Slovak News Agency (TASR).
“This step is a necessary response to the continuation of activities of Russian embassy personnel, which violate the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and are not in line with the interests of the Slovak Republic and our goal of developing a partnership with the Russian Federation,” the ministry added, according to Euractiv.com.
According to Prime Minister Eduard Heger, the number of diplomats has been reduced to the level of the regular diplomatic agenda. "The 35 diplomats we decided to send home were not only superfluous in view of our real relations with the Russian Federation, but also posed an intolerably high security risk," the prime minister was quoted by TV TA3 as saying.
The explusions are part of a series among Nato countries since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland and the Czech Republic have all announced the expulsion of Russian diplomats suspected of spying.
Slovakia already expelled three Russian diplomats for violating the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in mid-March. Additionally, the National Criminal Agency (NAKA) allegedly arrested three people suspected of spying for Russia, including a colonel from the defence ministry, a member of the Slovak Intelligence Service and a person associated with the blocked disinformation website Hlavne Spravy.
As Euractiv reported, the published report from the investigation shows that the arrested Colonel Pavel Bucka received more than €46,000 from the Russian embassy in Bratislava. He admitted he met with his Russian handler to give him a flash drive with details on Slovak defence forces, a White Paper on Defence, a calendar of army training, logistics, a statistical yearbook of the army and more.
"We hope that a quick end to the war in Ukraine and a conduct of the Russian diplomatic mission in accord with usual principles will enable us to build our ties on the basis of mutual respect and mutually beneficial cooperation," stated the Slovak foreign ministry's report.
The ministry also confirmed that the maximum number of diplomatic and service passports holders who are part of the Russian diplomatic mission will be set.
Although the official documents from 2021 report there were 29 Russian diplomats plus nine partners in Slovakia, the Sme daily reported that there might be nearly 70 individuals at the Russian Embassy in Slovak capital.
Slovaks are traditionally among the most pro-Russia in the region, and the least enthusiastic about US relations and Nato membership. The trust in pro-Russia narratives is linked to fondness towards the country, particularly among those who believe that life in Slovakia was better during the communist era.
While a survey by Focus Agency from March 8 shows that the public opinion has swung behind its membership in Nato, there are still more than 30% of Slovaks who believe that the war in Ukraine was deliberately provoked by the West.
As shows a recent poll carried out by the Institute of Experimental Psychology of the Centre of Social and Psychological Sciences, according to this one-third of the population, Russia only responded to the West provocation. 22% of citizens believe pro-Kremlin propaganda defending Russia´s troops presence in Ukraine.
“Conversely, more than one quarter of people believe the repeated news about Russia using military intervention in Ukraine to disarm and de-Nazify Ukraine (28%); that the war in Ukraine was deliberately provoked by the West and Russia merely responded to this provocation (34%); or that the Russian minorities in eastern Ukraine were facing genocide (27%),” Jakub Srol from the Institute said, as quoted by the news agency SITA.
He also added that 11% of respondents believed that the war in Ukraine is fake and there are paid actors and actresses in the pictures and 13% trusted the claims that Ukraine is developing nuclear weapons.
“All these results complete the well-known picture that people tend to trust information corresponding with their opinions and vision of the world and are, on the other hand, more sceptical towards news opposing their opinion,” Srol concluded.