Moscow: The Russian Foreign Ministry has denied reports that said four Russian embassy staff in Canadian capital Ottawa were expelled following the arrest of a Canadian military officer accused of spying for Russia.
The expulsions were reported on Thursday by Canadian media, which identified two of the four diplomats as former military attaché Konstantin Kolpakov and his deputy, Lt Col Dmitry Fedorchatenko.
The former head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Geoffrey O`Brian, told the CTV News channel that Fedorchatenko was likely a spymaster for the GRU, Russia`s military intelligence service.
"It is classically the military attaché that are classically the group from which GRU officers come," O`Brian was quoted as saying.
The Globe and Mail newspaper said the other two diplomats expelled were Mikhail Nikiforov and Tatiana Steklova.
An embassy spokesman later told the daily Nikiforov left Canada as part of planned rotation. He made no comment on Steklova.
Attache Kolpakov also left for Russia back in December because his term in Canada had expired, local news agency Postmedia News said.
Russian Foreign Ministry said on its Twitter account on Friday afternoon all four diplomats left Canada due to planned rotation, not expulsion.
The alleged Russian spy, Sub Lt Jeffrey Paul Delisle, 40, of the Canadian Navy, was detained earlier this month. Local media said the officer had been recruited to spy for Russia in 2007.
Canadian police insisted the information Delisle passed on did not endanger the country`s security. But CTV said Delisle had access to a treasure trove of classified information, including data on ship movements, weapons systems and even communication signals for Canada and the US` global spy network.
Delisle is set to appear in court next Wednesday. He faces up to life in prison if found guilty.
It is unclear how much the incident will affect Canadian relations with both Russia -- which Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is due to visit later this year -- and the US, its longtime ally whose military information could have been compromised.
US Ambassador in Canada David Jacobson tried to dispel some worries this week, saying "Canada is a trusted ally and partner of the US" despite the scandal.
Patching up Moscow`s relations with Ottawa may be trickier. Unidentified Canadian officials in CTV`s earlier report said "Russian espionage in this country is as extensive and aggressive as it was during the Cold War".