The Russian ambassador to Ireland described the expulsion by Britain of 23 diplomats as a “hostile action” and said it would “not go unanswered”.

Yury Filatov also labelled reports in The Sunday Times of a scaling up in Russian spy infrastructure in Ireland as a “fabrication”, and stated it was part of a wider “massive propaganda campaign against Russia”.

He declined to answer specific questions about Russian spy activities here and said if the Irish Government had any issues they needed to discuss, there were formal channels available.

Speaking to media at the embassy in Rathgar in Dublin, Mr Filatov accused the British government of acting in a “most irresponsible” and “aggressive way”.

British PM Theresa May announced the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats, described as being undeclared intelligence officers, in response to the attempted assassinations of a Russian former double agent and his daughter.

Sergei Skripal, a former officer with Russia’s military intelligence unit, the GRU, and his daughter Yulia, both remain in a critical condition after being exposed to a chemical agent last week.

“The British Government took hostile action against our diplomatic representation in the UK and I am sure, if not today then certainly very soon, we will give an answer to that, it will not go unanswered,” Mr Filatov said.

“It’s a worrisome situation when we have a government, a nuclear power, behaving in a most irresponsible, aggressive way. I hope common sense will prevail.”

Mr Filatov told the media they had been invited after articles appeared in The Sunday Times.

He described the stories which referred to the construction of new facilities and a power station at the embassy, as well as increased Russian spy activities, including by members of the GRU and its sister civilian agency the SVR, as “simply a fabrication” pointing out that no new buildings had been constructed.

Second secretary Vasily Velichkin described the stories as “fake news” but did confirm a major expansion of consular, embassy and accommodation buildings was planned over the next three years, pending planning permission. He said this was to replace the old and cramped individual buildings and not because of any increase in staffing or activities.

Mr Filatov claimed the articles were aimed at “manipulating Irish public opinion and creating an unfavourable, to put it mildly, impression, of Russia and the Russian embassy”.

He added: “It is just only a part of the whole hype around the Skripol affair in Great Britain. The overall effort is to launch a massive propaganda campaign against Russia.”

When asked directly had there been an increase in Russian spy activities here, he said he had nothing to add to what he had already said. Pressed again, he said they had a “stable, open and constructive dialogue” with the Irish Government and if there were “issues” there were ways to discuss them, through formal channels.

A Garda source told the Irish Examiner that Russian intelligence had “stepped up activities considerably in the last 12 months” and that security and intelligence, the Garda’s spy section, was “very concerned”.

He said efforts had been made to access confidential information in technology and aerospace companies and confirmed one of the incidents in The Sunday Times regarding an effort by a Russian couple to befriend one such employee, and that Garda Special Branch had intervened.

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