Fears Swirl That Spy Claims May Hit Business

Last week's allegations of cloak-and-dagger activities between Moscow and London have raised new concerns of a deterioration in British-Russian ties that could spill over into business.

Chris Bowers, director of the British Embassy's Trade and Investment Section, a position just below that of counselor, was implicated in spying by a source in the Russian security forces on Thursday. He is London's most senior diplomat dealing exclusively with trade ties, sources familiar with the matter said over the weekend.

This would make Bowers Britain's point man in the TNK-BP affair. The Russian-British joint venture has come under increasing pressure in recent months, beginning with raids by the Federal Security Service and allegations of spying.

A Russian security services source said last week that Bowers was suspected of spying, Interfax reported. The accusation followed a BBC television report in which an unidentified British security agent said London had evidence implicating the Russian government in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko.

Officials at the British Embassy and London's Foreign Office on Friday refused to confirm a report that cited a source in the Foreign Office as confirming that Bowers was the officer accused.

"We are not sure where the reports came from and are looking into the matter," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said by telephone from London.

The counselor position at the embassy was vacated last year when Andrew Levi, along with four other British diplomats, was expelled in response to Britain's expulsion of four Russian diplomats.

The expulsion came in answer to Russia's refusal to extradite Andrei Lugovoi to face charges in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, a former security services officer granted British asylum.

A British security services source said in an interview with BBC last week that the Russian government had likely played a role in Litvinenko's murder.

Moscow's ambassador to London, Yury Fedotov, said the charge was part of a campaign in the British media organized by people trying to further undercut mutual relations.

"I want to express my disappointment over the campaign organized against Russia recently in the British media," Fedotov said, the Guardian newspaper reported.

Chris Weafer, chief strategist at UralSib, said it was unlikely that the latest dispute was directly linked to TNK-BP.

"Instead, I think it is more likely linked to the return of the Litvinenko case to prominence in the U.K. media and, particularly, the claims made of the Kremlin's involvement," Weafer said.