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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Spy Conflict Stalled, Diplomats Remain

The biggest East-West espionage flap since the end of communism appears to have stalled. Five days after the Russian government announced the expulsion of nine British diplomats accused of running a spy ring out of Moscow, the diplomats were still in place and both sides seemed to be backing away from the conflict.


Spokesmen for both the British and Russian foreign services said Saturday that no concrete steps had been taken toward forcing out any diplomats, and that none were expected in the near future.


"Nobody has been expelled, and we have no indication that anybody will be expelled. There is no timetable, nor do we expect that one will be given," a spokesman for the British Foreign Office in London said Saturday. "It's surprising to say, but not very much is happening."


A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman added that it was "unlikely" that there would be any new developments in the case anytime soon.


"We have no new announcements to make about the case, and I doubt that there will be any more in the near future," said the spokesman, who also declined to confirm the number of diplomats marked for expulsion.


Last Monday, Colonel Alexander Zdanovich, a spokesman for Russia's Federal Security Service, or FSB, announced that a Russian national accused of passing state secrets to the British had been arrested in the last week of April.


On the following day, Zdanovich announced that testimony by the Russian national had allowed counterintelligence agents to build up an espionage case against nine British diplomats. He said that a list naming the nine had been presented to the British Embassy, and that Russia would expel them all from the country.


However, representatives of Britain's Foreign Office later denied that any list had been handed over, and Foreign Minister Malcolm Rifkind warned that Britain would make a "significant" response if diplomats were expelled.


Zdanovich's office subsequently came under fire when reports began surfacing in the media speculating that the FSB announcement was a political move designed to bolster President Boris Yeltsin's standing among voters with anti-Western sentiments.


Even retired KGB general Nikolai Leonov, head of Russia's counterintelligence operations in the 1980s, told NTV Independent Television Tuesday that he believed the incident was politically motivated.


"There is a desire to show that we are independent, that we can act tough in such cases and protect our national security interests," he said.


Presidential spokesman Dmitry Ryurikov struck back Thursday, calling allegations that the incident was connected to Yeltsin's campaign "stupid."


"It's absurd to suppose that these things can happen in the framework of President Boris Yeltsin's election campaign," he told Itar-Tass.











Britain's ambassador to Russia, Sir Andrew Wood, did not attend the Victory Day festivities on Red Square on Thursday. The British Embassy said that Wood's absence was due to a bad back.