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16 Aug, 2010 16:01

Romanian diplomat busted spying in Moscow

Romanian diplomat busted spying in Moscow

A Romanian diplomat has been reportedly caught red-handed in Moscow during an attempt to obtain secret defense information.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) has identified the Romanian intelligence agent.

“Romanian External Information Service officer Gabriel Grecu, working at the national embassy undercover as first secretary at the political department, was detained by the FSB as he attempted to obtain secret defense information from a Russian citizen on August 16,” the FSB said, as cited by Interfax news agency.

The alleged spy has been declared persona non grata and was given 48 hours to leave the Russian Federation.

“The Russian Foreign Ministry has expressed protest to the Romanian side through diplomatic channels in connection with Gabriel Grecu's activities being incompatible with his diplomatic status,” the FSB said.

So far, no official comment from the Romanian side has followed.

The report comes just weeks after the biggest spy swap deal between Moscow and Washington since the Cold War. This new spay scandal has drawn worldwide attention with media and analysts suggesting their own explanations for the move.

Romania’s former prime minister, Adrian Nastase says that the case might be some kind of a signal from Moscow to Moldova prior to a referendum aimed at overcoming a political crisis in the former Soviet republic, Russian GZT.ru news outlet writes citing Romanian television.

Even though relations between Romania and neighboring Moldova have been rather complicated in recent years, the two states that speak almost identical languages – which many linguists refer to as simply Romanian – have strong historical ties. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Bucharest was the first to recognize Moldova’s independence. Romania has been backing Chisinau’s ambitions to join the EU. However, many in Moldova have been accusing Bucharest of seeking integration with the republic.

Too much Russian media attention to the incident is one of the explanations for his theory, Nastate said. Nastate, who is also a former Foreign Minister, said that before, no one would have known about a diplomat’s expulsion on espionage allegations.

He reminded of the recent Russian-American spy scandal. “From my personal experience, I can tell that normally the public is not aware of cases when some people are declared personae non grata,” he said.

Russian analysts have given a much simpler explanation to the entire story: everyone is just doing their job.

“The FSB has to work. Romanians, if they are involved in intelligence, have to show they are acting. So, one side has to do something, the other side’s task is to catch them. As simple as that,” a former employee of Russia’s military intelligence service, Vitaly Shlykov told the news site.

He also said that Bucharest has no military interests in Russia, and has excluded that they could spying in Russia for a third party.

Romania, however, has been a NATO member state since 2004.

Meanwhile, not much is known so far about the main character of the spy scandal – Grecu. Russian newspaper Kommersant claims that, prior to his work in Moscow, Gabriel Grecu was Chargé d'Affaires ad interim in Romania’s embassy to Armenia.

Romanian journalists have obtained data on the alleged spy’s income, cites GZT.ru. Grecu’s salary was far from impressive: slightly more than $6,000 per year. According to his 2009 income statement, Grecu has no bank accounts, no real property or cars, nor any debts to his name.