Britain Downplays Expulsions While Keeping Options Open

British sources confirmed on Monday that London is currently unlikely to expel any diplomats in reply to Federal Security Service harassment of British Council staff in Russia, but would not rule out such a move in the future.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said last week that his government was unlikely to expel any cultural attaches at the Russian Embassy in London.

That statement came under question Sunday, when a British newspaper reported that London had prepared a list of 34 Russian diplomats it might expel in retaliation for the pestering of British Council staff. The staff were called in for questioning by the FSB after the council refused to close branches in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg.

The British Embassy said Monday that nothing had changed since Miliband's statement, but a diplomatic source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said Britain was maintaining the option of expelling other diplomats should the harassment of council staff continue.

Both the Foreign Office and the source refuted the Mail on Sunday report that London was preparing to send dozens of diplomats packing.

But the personal nature of the latest chapter in the long-running feud clearly has Britain irked.

Stephen Kinnock, the head of the British Council's St. Petersburg branch, left the country on the advice of consular staff after being detained last week by traffic police on suspicion of drunk driving.

"The events of last week seem to show that they are targeting me," Kinnock said by telephone from Copenhagen on Monday.

"I had a single glass of red wine with a large dinner over the course of the evening. I also had some coffee and water, and I'm a big guy," he added. "I absolutely deny any drunk driving charge."

Kinnock, who has diplomatic immunity from prosecution, refused a Breathalyzer test on the advice of consular staff, who were concerned that the evidence could have been faked, he said.