The on-again, off-again confrontation between Moscow and London over Russian spy charges took an unexpected turn over the weekend when the Kremlin criticized Britain May 18 for its part in what had appeared a day earlier to be an amicable, mutual compromise. On May 17 four British diplomats were expelled from Russia for espionage. London retaliated tit-for-tat later that day, as it had warned it would, by informing Moscow that four Russian diplomats would have to leave Britain. But the parallel actions, which came nearly two weeks after Moscow first leveled spy charges against Britain May 6, had all the markings of a carefully negotiated compromise, particularly insofar as the four expulsions were far less than the nine originally threatened by Moscow. Both sides also made clear their determination to maintain friendly relations. British sources were quoted as saying privately that they viewed the arrangement as "very satisfactory." (Reuter & AP, May 17) Another unnamed British diplomat reportedly expressed London’s understanding of the differences between Russia’s Foreign Ministry and Federal Security Service on the issue. (Itar-Tass, May 17)
One day later, however, Moscow unexpectedly renewed the confrontation when the Russian Foreign Ministry denounced London’s expulsions of the Russian personnel as "unfair and unacceptable." A ministry spokesman charged anew that Moscow had documentary evidence of the British diplomats’ alleged misdeeds, while Britain’s expulsions, he charged, were arbitrary. "We urge the British side to weigh everything seriously once again," he said. (Itar-Tass, May 17)
Controversy over Yeltsin Conscription Decree.