Russia and Britain faced off yesterday in an escalating spy row redolent of the Cold War, and today Moscow announced that it would expel nine British diplomats for allegedly running a spy ring. Britain’s Foreign Office categorically denied the charges and suggested that London would retaliate with expulsions of its own. (BBC World Service, May 7)
Earlier, the Russian Foreign Ministry had summoned British ambassador Andrew Wood to inform him that several English intelligence agents, allegedly working under cover of the embassy, had been declared "persona non grata" for maintaining contacts with a Russian citizen arrested for espionage. In a brief statement, Russia’s Federal Security Service said that an agent of British intelligence had been "caught red-handed" while communicating with a contact. Itar-Tass quoted Russian intelligence sources as saying that the suspected spy, described as a young man with access to military and political secrets, was arrested in April . Now in Lefortovo prison, he allegedly provided exhaustive evidence of his recruitment by the British Secret Intelligence Service. His motive was said to be money. (Reuter, UPI, & Itar-Tass, May 6)
Moscow’s public airing of its accusations at a time when British-Russian relations appeared to be on even keel has led to speculation that the case is being driven at least in part by election-year politics. At the same time, Russia’s foreign intelligence service has reacted angrily to accusations in recent months that it has stepped up its espionage activities in Eastern and Western Europe, countering that the West is guilty of increased spying in Russia.
Yeltsin Defends Strong Presidency, Warns of Threat to Reforms.