Government refuses to issue new visas to Russian diplomats amid espionage concerns

Coalition move causes embassy staff to drop by more than 50%, increasing tensions between Dublin and Moscow

The Government is refusing to allow Russia to replace diplomats assigned to its Dublin embassy, which the Irish security services have been monitoring due to concerns over espionage in recent years.

Consequently, Moscow’s diplomatic presence here has dropped by half — resulting in a tense standoff between the two governments.

The number of accredited diplomats and administrative staff in the embassy has fallen from 30 to 14 since before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. This includes the four diplomats expelled by the Irish Government in March 2022 on suspicion of engaging in espionage.

Also gone are two defence attaches from the Russian military assigned to Ireland. Such officers usually work closely with, or directly under, Russian intelligence agencies when stationed overseas.


The large number of staff previously assigned to the embassy has long been a concern for the Irish security services who suspect the sprawling complex on Orwell Road in Rathgar, South Dublin, is used as a cover for various spying activities, including interception of communications.

Before the war, Russia had operated one of the largest diplomatic presences in Dublin despite having relatively few official dealings with the Irish government and a small diaspora here.

A Russian embassy spokesman confirmed the decline in numbers to The Irish Times and blamed the Department of Foreign Affairs and its “unacceptable visa and accreditation policy”.

He said since last year, Ireland has stopped issuing new visas to incoming embassy staff and has refused to extend accreditation for staff already in the State.

“As a result, many members of the staff have had to considerably overstay their tour of duty here, but then had to leave for Russia due to personal reasons, without any replacement,” said the spokesman.

“All that in a very significant and negative way reflects on the work of the embassy, which includes consular assistance to thousands of Russian citizens in Ireland, as well as Irish citizens.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed there has been a significant drop in the number of accredited Russian embassy personnel in Dublin but declined to comment on the visa issue.

However, diplomatic sources confirmed the department has stopped issuing new visas to staff since last year due to the poor relations between Ireland and Russia.

There are six Russian diplomats and eight administrative staff stationed in Dublin, including Ambassador Yuriy Filatov.

In March 2022, shortly after the invasion of Ukraine, the Government expelled four Russian diplomats because their activities were “not in accordance with the international standards of diplomatic behaviour”.

In 2020, the Government used national security legislation to block planning permission for the embassy to expand its structures amid fears it would increase the threat of espionage.

The decline in embassy staff here mirrors a trend seen in other EU capitals, said Edward Burke, a security expert at UCD.

Since the start of the war, Moscow’s embassies have been coming under much closer scrutiny from local security services, forcing them to rely less on traditional espionage activity which takes place under diplomatic cover, he said.

“They know the embassies are under much more intense surveillance, so they have shifted to other means of operating,” said Dr Burke.

This includes relying on a diffuse network of Russian nationals, not directly associated with embassies, for intelligence gathering. Moscow is also increasingly using nationals from other countries to spy, said Dr Burke. He noted the arrests in the United Kingdom last year of five Bulgarian nationals who are accused of spying for Russia.

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Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times