Quiet spy expulsions won't spoil the party

Dec. 30, 2010 at 6:30 AM
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MADRID, Dec. 30 (UPI) -- Plans by Russia and Spain to celebrate in 2011 each other's cultures remain intact despite tit-for-tat expulsions of alleged spies in the past several weeks.

Russia quietly expelled two Spanish diplomats last week on charges of spying, a Spanish foreign ministry spokesman said. Political attache Ignacio Cartagena and first secretary Borja Cortes-Breton were sent home from Moscow.

But Spain did the same last month to two Russians, sending them home for "activities incompatible with their status as diplomats," he said.

However, the issues have been "resolved" and both countries are looking forward to moving ahead with their coordinated "Year of Russia" cultural celebrations in Spain and "Year of Spain" programs in Russia.

Cartagena, Spain's man in Moscow, had been involved in planning the Spanish program in Russia.

A visit to Moscow by Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez will go ahead as planned next month, the ministry spokesman said. Her visit will come less than a year since Spain wrapped up a previous diplomatic row with Russia when a Madrid court handed a nine-year jail sentence to a Spanish national for spying for Moscow.

Relations between the countries on the extremities of Europe generally have remained in good shape since Moscow restored diplomatic relations in 1977 when right-wing dictator Francisco Franco died.

Franco had been in power since 1939, at the end of the three-year Spanish Civil War, but had been shunned for decades by many European democracies.

Franco led a military coup, aided by the church, against the elected Republican government that was supported by Spanish communists. During the war, many communists from around Europe as well as the United States and Canada went to Spain to fight alongside the government.

It was three years ago that Russia and Spain were embroiled in what has been their most serious espionage row.

In July 2007, Spain arrested Roberto Florez Garcia, 45, a suspected Spanish double agent who allegedly sold classified information to Russia while working for the CNI, Spain's CIA equivalent.

Florez worked for the CNI from 1991 to 2004. When he was arrested at a house on the Canary Islands, a Spanish territory off the Atlantic coast of northern Africa, he reportedly had five large boxes of DVDs, CDs, VHS and cassette tapes and computer hard drives that he had collected over the 13 years of his CNI career.

Police also said they confiscated letters that allegedly show at least one payment to him of $200,000 for information.

After 2 1/2 years of legal delays, he was put on trial behind closed doors last January and sentenced in February to nine years in jail.

Last week, Britain announced it had expelled earlier in December a Russian diplomat and Russia responded similarly.

The expulsion of the Russian diplomat was "in response to clear evidence of activities by the Russian intelligence services against U.K. interests," Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague said.

Britain's diplomatic relations with Russia remain more official than cordial since 2006 when Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian spy, was killed with radioactive polonium in London.

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