Poland detains Spanish reporter suspected of spying for Russia

A Spanish journalist suspected of spying for Russia was detained at the Polish-Ukrainian border, Poland's counter-intelligence agency said Friday.

Poland detains Spanish reporter suspected of spying for Russia
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) tweeted Thursday that the Spanish journalist was detained for more than 72 hours "without any credible explanation". Photo: John MACDOUGALL / AFP

Named as Pablo González by his lawyer, the freelance reporter worked for online media Publico and the La Sexta television channel.

“ABW agents have detained a Spanish citizen of Russian origin… He has been identified as an agent for the GRU” Russian military intelligence agency, Poland’s ABW agency said.

It accused González of “conducting his business for Russia while taking advantage of his journalist status”.

His lawyer Gonzalo Boye, known in Spain for representing Catalonia’s exiled former leader Carles Puigdemont, confirmed the charge late Thursday.

“Pablo Gonzalez is accused of an espionage offence… and is in temporary detention at the prison in Rzeszow” in southern Poland, he tweeted.

ABW said it detained Gonzalez on the night of February 27th to 28th in the southern border city of Przemysl where he had been for a couple of days.

“He was preparing to travel to Ukraine,” the agency said.

Before ABW’s announcement, media watchdogs expressed concern over the journalist’s situation.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) tweeted Thursday that Gonzalez was detained for more than 72 hours “without any credible explanation”.

“He has had no access to his lawyer which is a denial of his fundamental rights,” RSF added.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on Polish officials Tuesday to “immediately release” Gonzalez.

The CPJ said he had also been detained by Ukrainian agents in Kyiv on February 6th and accused of reporting from military-controlled areas in the eastern Donbas region without proper accreditation.

He was released without charge a few hours later.

Poland’s prosecutors said Gonzalez had been active in other countries and was carrying two passports and two Russian cards attributed to two different names.

If found guilty, he faces 10 years in prison.

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Russia expels dozens of Spanish and other European diplomats

Moscow on Wednesday kicked out 27 diplomats from Spain, as well as dozens more from France and Italy in retaliation for the expulsion of Russian diplomats from European countries as part of a joint action against Russia's campaign in Ukraine.

Russia expels dozens of Spanish and other European diplomats

Spain has lashed out at Russia for expelling 27 Spanish diplomats in what appeared to be a tit-for-tat response over a similar move by Madrid against Russian diplomats over the Ukraine conflict.

The employees of the Spanish embassy in Moscow and the Spanish Consulate General in Saint Petersburg “have been declared persona non grata” and will have seven days to leave Russia.

 “Russian authorities justify this decision on grounds of reciprocity for the expulsion of 27 Russian embassy officials in April. But that expulsion was based on justified security reasons, which are not present in this case,” a foreign ministry statement said.

The Spanish decision was taken in early April just days after dozens of bodies in civilian clothing were found on the streets of Bucha just outside Kyiv following the withdrawal of Russian troops, raising allegations of Russian war crimes.

At the time, the foreign ministry said it would expel the Russian diplomats on grounds they were “a threat to (Spain’s) interests and security”.

The Russian ambassador was not among those asked to leave.

The ministry told Spanish ambassador Marcos Gómez Martínez that the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Madrid “would have a negative impact on Russian-Spanish relations”.

Spain’s decision was part of a coordinated move across Europe that saw more than 200 Russian envoys sent home in 48 hours on grounds of alleged spying or “national security reasons” as outrage grew over the atrocities in Ukraine.

More European diplomats expelled

Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement it was expelling 34 “employees of French diplomatic missions” in Russia and gave them two weeks to leave the country.

Moscow made the announcement after summoning France’s ambassador to Russia, Pierre Levy, and telling him that the expulsion of 41 employees of Russian diplomatic missions was a “provocative and unfounded decision”, the statement said.

While there was no official statement, the foreign ministry’s spokeswoman Maria Zakharova confirmed to Russian news agencies that 24 Italian diplomats had also been expelled.

The foreign ministry in Paris said France “strongly condemns” the expulsion of its diplomats by Russia, adding that this step from Moscow had “no legitimate basis”.

It said the work of French diplomats in Russia “takes place fully within the framework of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic and consular relations” — whereas Paris expelled Russian staff in April on suspicion of being spies.

‘Hostile act’

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi condemned the expulsions as a “hostile act” but said diplomatic channels must remain open “because it’s through those channels that, if possible, peace (in Ukraine) will be achieved”.

Separately, municipal lawmakers in Moscow on Wednesday backed a decision to name a previously unnamed area in front of the US embassy in Moscow “Donbas Defenders Square”.

The name refers to a majority Russian-speaking region in eastern Ukraine that Russia says it is liberating as part of its military campaign.

In February 2018, a street outside the Russian embassy in Washington was named after Boris Nemtsov, an opposition politician who was shot dead outside the Kremlin in 2015.

President Vladimir Putin in late February sent troops into Ukraine, saying the campaign aimed to stop the “genocide” of Russian speakers in the pro-Western country.

In response Moscow has faced a barrage of international sanctions and growing isolation from the global community as relations with the West deteriorate to Cold War levels.