Moscow won't expel British diplomats accused of spying

The head of Russia’s main KGB successor agency said Moscow will not expel four British diplomats accused of spying, a Russian news agency reported today.

Nikolai Patrushev, the head of the Federal Security Service, known under its Russian acronym FSB, won’t insist that the diplomats be expelled, the Interfax news agency reported.

“Obviously, if they remain in Russia, they will work under our control,” Patrushev was quoted as saying.

Patrushev’s comments echoed similar remarks by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Let them stay here and keep their seats at the intelligence station. It will be pleasant for us to know that we control these people,” Putin, a 16-year KGB veteran, said last month.

FSB last month accused four British diplomats of spying and said one of them had provided money for nongovernment organisations – an espionage scandal dismissed by Kremlin critics and rights activists as part of a campaign to discredit NGOs following the passage of a controversial law that severely restricts their activities and financing.

Britain’s ambassador to Russia has defended his country’s financing of non-governmental organisations in Russia, saying there was nothing unlawful or improper about it.

In his Interfax interview, Patrushev reaffirmed allegations that one of the four diplomats, Marc Doe, was involved in funding NGOs.

“In our opinion, the Britons made a big mistake by having a career intelligence officer contact NGOs,” Patrushev was quoted as saying. “That discredited the sincerity of British ’support’ for the development of civil society in Russia.”

Patrushev also accused Britain’s MI6 spy service of breaking unwritten rules.

“MI6 has violated the established practice under which official representatives of the spy agencies don’t engage in intelligence activities in a country they are posted to,” he said.

Patrushev said that one of the four diplomats accused of spying, Paul Crompton, was assistant MI6 station chief in Moscow.

Crompton is listed as working in the embassy’s political section.

Asked to comment on Patrushev’s allegations, British Embassy spokesman Anton Atrashkin said that it “doesn’t comment on allegations related to security issues no matter how absurd they are.”

Patrushev was quoted as saying that his agency publicised the British spying allegations after MI6 had refused to discuss the purported Russian evidence linking diplomats to spying.

Patrushev claimed that his agency had a “documentary” evidence of British spies’ efforts to obtain Russian military secrets, highlighted by recent arrests of two suspected British agents. He didn’t mention th agents’ names or give any further details in the report.

He said that foreign intelligence agencies have shown an increasing interest in Russian military secrets, particularly in Russia’s nuclear capabilities.

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