If the report is accurate, then the implications would be dramatic. Germany has until now always played a softly-softly game with Moscow, leaving the confrontational gestures to London or Washington. There have in any case not been any such mass expulsions - which would almost certainly be followed by retaliatory measures in Moscow - since the end of the Cold War.
Few Western officials conceal their dismay at the extent of continuing Russian espionage - a reflection of the fact that some of Moscow's values have changed little since the collapse of the Soviet Union. But there is little appetite for a head-to-head confrontation with the Yeltsin government.
The Office for the Protection of the Constitution, or BfV - the German equivalent of MI5 - refused yesterday to comment on the Spiegel report. According to the magazine, the BfV had presented the Foreign Ministry with the list of alleged undesirables. A Ministry spokesman issued denials, insisting that a list, "as described", had not been seen. Asked about a possible worsening of relations with Moscow on the horizon, officials said: "Absolutely not."
Paradoxically, some in Germany might argue that relations with Moscow ought to be worse than they now are. Boris Yeltsin appears to be imitating his predecessor in the Kremlin, Mikhail Gorbachev, in using his political vulnerability as a blackmail weapon to prevent the West from reacting to the persistent use of military force within Russia's borders.
There has been almost no official reaction in Bonn to the extraordinary announcement by Moscow of a brief pause in the Chechnya bloodletting, to make it easier for Western politicians to go to Moscow for the 50th anniversary celebrations for what Russians know as the Great Patriotic War.Reuse content