The British government intends to deport at least 34 Russian diplomats supposedly suspected of espionage, The Daily Mail reports with reference to anonymous sources. The article gives several names: Alexander Sternik, the head of the political department and Consul General Andrei Pritsepov. The newspaper drew a parallel between the intention of the British Foreign Office and the actions of Russia’s FSB taken against the activities of the British Council.
British special services have not made a final decision to expel the “Russian spies.” Alexander Sternik gave an interview to The Daily Mail in which he explained that he was not an agent of the Russian intelligence. The official said that he the entire staff of the Russian consulate in London counts 35 people, plus the auxiliary personnel. Therefore, if Britain decided to deport the Russian diplomats, there will be only the ambassador and its bodyguards left in the office.
Russia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov in his turn rejected the information about the scheduled expulsion of Russian diplomats from London. To all appearance, Moscow does not take those rumours seriously.
“I’ve heard about it, but the British Foreign Secretary told me that they are not going to take any measures in response. I think that it is reasonable for them. We presented an absolutely irrefutable legal argument which clears shows that there are not legal grounds for the work of the British Council in Russia,” Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference Sunday.
Mr. Lavrov said that Moscow and London previously developed an agreement, which would legalize the activity of the British Council in the Russian Federation. The British side exercised high activity at that point, and now it is pointless for them to act as if the agreement has been signed already.
Russia suspended the work on the document after Britain took a series of Russia-unfriendly measures reacting to Russia’s refusal to deliver Andrei Lugovoi, who is suspected of being involved in the assassination of former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko.
“There are no arguments on the British side. They try to keep everything political, whereas we want to solve the problem not in the political, but in the legal perspective,” Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference.
Russia ’s foreign affairs minister also said that The Daily Mail publishes sensations on a regular basis, although few of those materials prove to be true to fact.
Spokespeople for Britain’s Foreign Office confirmed that there were no diplomatic actions being taken against Russia in connection with the British Council controversy.
However, if Britain decided to expel Russian diplomats from London, it will repeat the story of 1971, when 105 Soviet diplomats accused of espionage were forced to leave the British capital.
Translated by Dmitry Sudakov