A confrontation between London and Moscow over alleged British spying activities skittered uncertainly into a second day yesterday as Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) announced that nine British diplomats would be expelled from Russia. A more cautious and conciliatory Russian foreign ministry, however, claimed that no formal expulsion order had been issued. Meanwhile, a British Foreign Office spokesman confirmed that London had yet to be notified officially of Moscow’s intended actions. British officials also continued to characterize Russian accusations as unjustified and repeated their warning from the previous day that London would retaliate if the expulsions took place. Britain’s ambassador to Russia, Sir Andrew Wood, held a thirty-minute meeting in Moscow with Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov, but the substance of their talks was not made public. (Reuter, UPI, Itar-Tass, May 7)
The diplomatic confrontation was set off yesterday when Russia’s counter-intelligence service, the FSB, announced that a suspected spy, arrested last month, had provided exhaustive evidence of his recruitment by British intelligence. (See Monitor, May 7) The row could become the most serious to occur between the two countries since 1989, when eleven British diplomats and journalists were expelled from Russia.
Although a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman underscored the ministry’s faith in the veracity of the FSB charges, the seeming lack of coordination between the two agencies was notable. The FSB is headed by Mikhail Barsukov, a hard-line Yeltsin ally. Observers have pointed to Russia’s upcoming presidential election and suggested that the Kremlin has launched the confrontation with Britain now in order to improve Boris Yeltsin’s chances with Russia’s increasingly anti-Western electorate.
Military Commander Calls for Election Postponement…