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German civil servants expelled from Russia

May 27, 2023

Diplomats, teachers and staff working for a German cultural organization are to leave Russia by June. The move is an apparent tit-for-tat response to Berlin's expulsoion of Russian intelligence officers.

A man walks next to the German Embassy in Moscow, Russia on April 25, 2023
Germany expelled Russian diplomats last year and in AprilImage: Petrov Sergey/Russian Look/IMAGO

Several hundred German civil servants, including diplomats, school teachers and Goethe-Institut staff, are expected to leave Russia shortly, following a request by Moscow, German media reported on Saturday. 

The Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper first reported on the matter. It said that the Kremlin decided in April to introduce a cap on the number of staff at Germany's missions and intermediary organizations in the country.

The move follows Berlin's decision to expel a number of Russian intelligence officers.

Departures to happen next month

"This limit, set by Russia from the beginning of June, requires a major cut in all areas of our presence in Russia," Germany's Foreign Ministry said on Saturday, confirming earlier media reports. 

"This is a unilateral, unjustified and incomprehensible decision," the ministry added. 

The ministry did not specify the exact number of staff affected. 

People stand in front of the Goethe-Institut building in Moscow on June 15, 2018
The Goethe-Institut is a non-profit German cultural association that operates worldwideImage: Federico Gambarini/dpa/picture alliance

The expulsions show the effect on ties between Moscow and Berlin caused by the war in Ukraine.

When Russia invaded Ukraine February last year, Germany cut its reliance on Russian gas imports, backed international sanctions on Moscow and expelled dozen of Russian diplomats who Berlin believed to represent a threat to its security.

The earlier cuts to Russian diplomatic staff spurred a tit-for-tat response from Moscow which booted out some 20 German embassy staff.

Embassy staff cut to bone

The expulsions mean the representations have already been severely thinned out and services for German citizens have been reduced or are associated with longer waiting times.

A shot of the front of the German School building in Moscow on June 14, 2018
Staff from the German School in Moscow are also affected by the Russian decisionImage: Christian Charisius/dpa/picture alliance

Last October, the head of Germany's cybersecurity agency, Arne Schönbohm, 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 was handed a suspended prison sentence of a year and nine months for spying for Russia. 

mm/fb (AFP, dpa)