Sweden expels five Russian diplomats, ministry says

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) -Sweden’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday it was expelling five Russian diplomats for conducting activities incompatible with their diplomatic status, saying the government took the security threat posed by Russian intelligence gathering very seriously.

Russia’s embassy in Sweden declined to comment on the development.

Russia and Western countries have engaged in tit-for-tat expulsions since Moscow invaded Ukraine in February last year. Russia calls the invasion a “special military operation”.

“Five people who are employed at the (Russian) embassy have been asked to leave (Sweden) as a result of activities that are incompatible with the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations,” a Swedish foreign ministry statement said.

The ministry declined to specify the activities involved, but said the Swedish security service had reported that Russia had continuously engaged in intelligence gathering in Sweden.

“This is a security threat that the government takes very seriously,” it said in an emailed statement.

Sweden’s Security Service declined to comment on the case, but said it has long warned that Russia used diplomats to spy on Sweden.

Concerns have grown in many countries over Russian intelligence activities, with Swedish security police singling out Russia as a serious threat to the security of the Nordic country, which is seeking membership of NATO.

Earlier this month, Norway expelled 15 Russian embassy officials it described as intelligence officers operating under diplomatic cover.

Sweden expelled three Russian diplomats in April last year, while Germany, the Netherlands, France and Belgium also expelled officials a year ago over alleged spying.

Europe has heavily sanctioned Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, while Sweden’s application to join the NATO military alliance has attracted Russia’s displeasure.

(Reporting by Simon Johnson, Marie Mannes and Johan Ahlander; editing by Niklas Pollard, William Maclean and Bernadette Baum)