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Terrorism & Security

Russia expels British diplomat in latest blow to better relations

The Russian and British relationship had been enjoying a warming trend. But Britain expelled a Russian diplomat earlier this month and Russia responded in kind yesterday.

By Correspondent / December 23, 2010

This photo shows the British embassy in central Moscow in August. Russia announced that it has expelled a British diplomat Wednesday, in retaliation for Britain expelling a Russian diplomat earlier this month.

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Russia announced the expulsion of a British diplomat yesterday in an apparent tit-for-tat response to Britain's announcement that it had expelled a Russian diplomat earlier this month for spying.

The Guardian reports that Russia said on Wednesday that Britain's "groundless" accusations forced Moscow to respond to the expulsion in kind:

" 'The British side took an unfriendly step the other day, having groundlessly declared one of our colleagues in our embassy in London persona non grata,' Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement.

'We were forced to take an adequate corresponding measure,' the statement on the foreign ministry's website said.

It did not say what the measure was, but London has said Russia requested the removal of a British diplomat on 16 December and that both diplomats had now been withdrawn."

The British tabloid The Sun reports that the Russian diplomat's expulsion is connected to sleeper agent concerns. The Sun writes that an unnamed intelligence official said that "The worry was individuals who should not be coming here would be. It raised worries about potential sleeper agents taking long-term advantage of their presence here."

However, The Guardian reported Tuesday that the Russian diplomat, who was a known intelligence officer, had broken "one of the rules of the game" by "having 'crossed the line' between what is regarded as acceptable and unacceptable behaviour of an intelligence officer." The Guardian adds that the diplomat's breach was via personal contact, rather than by accessing government information or property.

At least one Russian commentator has dismissed the tit-for-tat expulsions as "routine" and "dull." RIA Novosti's political commentator Andrei Fedyashin writes that the tiff is "hardly a scandal," noting that "the game was played with traditional, impersonal diplomatic politeness""

"Diplomats are expelled for a variety of reasons. It’s not exactly difficult to identify those officials that work for intelligence agencies. Sometimes it is a purely political move. In this case, British newspapers reported that the expelled Russian diplomat had overstepped the mark, crossing the line between what is regarded acceptable and unacceptable behavior for an intelligence officer. The collection of any information of interest to intelligence agencies is considered acceptable behavior.

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