Germany expelled Russian diplomats mid-April in order "to reduce the presence of intelligence services" in the country, the government said Monday, in justifying a decision that triggered retaliatory expulsions by the Kremlin.
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that "the activity of these people was not in line with their diplomatic status," adding it had been in contact with Russia in recent weeks about the matter.
Berlin had previously not provided a justification for the departure of the diplomats, a move that triggered the expulsion of some 20 German embassy staff in Moscow. Germany’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the embassy staff left Moscow on Monday.
"Unlike the members representing Russia in Germany, our colleagues have always concerned themselves with behaving in accordance to their diplomatic status," the ministry said.SEE ALSO: Dutch Intel Agency Paints Grim Picture of Multiple Threats
A close economic partner with Russia before the military offensive in Ukraine, Germany has since moved away from Moscow, supporting Kyiv in the conflict both financially and militarily.
Since the onset of the conflict in Ukraine, Russian espionage in Germany has grown at a rate rarely equaled in recent years, according to German security services.SEE ALSO: MI5 Spy Chief: Russia, China, Iran Top Threat List to UK
In spring 2022, Germany had already expelled some 40 Russian diplomats who Berlin believed to represent a threat to its security.
Last October, the head of German's cybersecurity agency, Arne Schoenbohm, was fired after news reports revealed his proximity to a cybersecurity consultancy believed to have contacts with Russian intelligence services.
A month later, a German reserve officer received a suspended prison sentence of a year and nine months for spying for Russia.