Another Russian diplomat, a defence attaché with the rank of colonel, is leaving Canada in a departure that his embassy says is a routine posting change – one under way in the midst of a spy scandal that's rocked the Canadian military.
Colonel Sergey Zhukov, the defence attaché for the Russian government in Ottawa, has been accredited as a foreign representative with the embassy in Canada for years.
A Russian embassy official described the move back to Moscow as a "normal rotation" and referred further questions to Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs.
The Globe and Mail reported last week that it had learned that more than one Russian diplomat was asked to leave Canada in connection with spy charges laid against a Canadian sailor.
Four other embassy staffers have left in recent months and it's not clear which, if any, of these exits can be tied to the spy controversy.
Sub-Lieutenant Jeffrey Paul Delisle was charged Jan. 16 under Canada's Security of Information Act with passing government secrets to foreign interests and faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted. The naval intelligence officer is the first person ever charged under the 2001 law.
SLt. Delisle remains in custody in the Halifax area awaiting a court appearance on Feb. 28, at which time a date for his bail hearing is expected to be set.
The Department of Foreign Affairs refused to discuss Col. Zhukov's accreditation or history on Tuesday, but Canada has recognized him as a foreign representative for Russia dating back to at least March 2008, according to the oldest list that could be found.
The Russian embassy declined to divulge Col. Zhukov's departure date and would not say if he'd already left or was preparing to leave in the weeks ahead.
As of Tuesday, the colonel was still listed on Foreign Affair's official list of accredited foreign representatives.
Canadian counterintelligence officials pay close attention to Russian defence attachés, who are known as "declared intelligence officers" and understood to be legitimately gleaning what tidbits of information they can from their host country.
However, Canadian officials also assume some Russian defence attachés are sponsored by the GRU, Moscow's military intelligence agency.
Envoys are considered to have crossed a line when they engage in conduct unbecoming a diplomat – namely attempting to aggressively and covertly gather a host nation's state secrets.
The Russian government has dismissed any connection between recent diplomatic departures from Canada and the Delisle case, saying staffers left far in advance of the sailor's arrest.
Doug Thomas, who runs Strategic Defence Solutions and helps facilitate Russian military equipment exports to Canada, said Col. Zhukov's return to Moscow is no surprise. "He was overdue for rotation. He's over his posting. So this is very routine."
Other Russian embassy staffers have departed Canada in recent months. At least four have been removed from Ottawa's list of accredited Russian representatives. They include assistant defence attaché Lieutenant-Colonel Dmitry Fedorchatenko, technical and administrative embassy staffers Mikhail Nikiforov and Tatiana Steklova, as well as attaché Konstantin Kolpakov.
Separately, on Tuesday, a bit more detail emerged about the military's security sweep for bugs at the Halifax naval intelligence facility where the sailor worked before his arrest. A Halifax-based source said the move to relocate intelligence staff to other military offices took place last Thursday.
Separately Tuesday, more detail emerged about the military's security sweep for bugs at the Halifax naval intelligence facility where the sailor worked before his arrest. A Halifax-based source said the move to relocate Trinity staff to other military offices took place last Thursday, just days after SLt. Delisle's case became public.
The only people being allowed in to the Trinity offices are those conducting the search for mechanisms or software that might be working to leak secrets, a source says.
The office itself is guarded by an electronic shield that prevents unauthorized transmissions and a cloak of secrecy has been dropped over the investigation.
With a report from Oliver Moore