Spanish media have uncovered a diplomatic tit-for-tat between Madrid and Moscow. The countries each expelled two diplomats after Spain accused Russian embassy staff of espionage.
The end of the Cold War has brought no end to espionage
Spanish newspaper El Pais reported on Tuesday that Spain and Russia had been in a serious diplomatic spat resulting in a tit-for-tat expulsion of diplomats.
The Spanish Foreign Ministry later confirmed that it had expelled two Russian diplomats one month ago, leading to Moscow sending away two Spanish diplomats in response.
Madrid asked the two Russian embassy staff members to leave Spain for "engaging in activities incompatible with their status," the Spanish Foreign Ministry said. In diplomatic language a statement like this usually is an allegation of espionage.
The Spanish secret service reportedly found evidence that the two had been spying.
"In retaliation," Russia expelled two Spanish diplomats, the ministry statement continued.
No comment from Moscow
The incident is one of the most serious between the two nations since Moscow restored diplomatic relations with Madrid in 1977 after a 38-year break during the rein of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.
Moscow on Tuesday declined to comment on the incident.
Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez is scheduled to meet with her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on January 16 to try and smooth things over.
Last week London requested the departure of a Russian diplomat accused of activities against British interests. Russia then expelled a British diplomat, saying the spat was groundless, but that it had been forced to respond in kind.
The tensions between Moscow and London date back to the murder of former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko, who died in 2006. Moscow refuses to extradite a Russian lawmaker who Britain suspects to was involved in the killing.
Author: Andreas Illmer (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Nancy Isenson