Fears Russia could name alleged UK spies in tit-for-tat reprisal

March 14th, 20188:36 pm @

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  • Theresa May has ordered 23 Russian ‘diplomats’ to leave Britain within a week 
  • The expulsions are the biggest swipe at Moscow’s UK outpost in decades 
  • PM move is expected to lead to retaliation in Moscow raising security fears

Tim Sculthorpe, Deputy Political Editor For Mailonline

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Fears were growing tonight Russia could name alleged British spies in a tit-for-tat reprisal to Theresa May ordering 23 Kremlin agents out of London.

Moscow is expected to retaliate to the Prime Minister’s actions and threaten to expose the identities of members of the security services. 

After being notified of Theresa May’s reprisals at the Foreign Office, Russia’s UK ambassador Alexander Yakovenko branded them a ‘provocation’ and ‘unacceptable’ and confirmed there would be expulsions of British diplomats.

Tory MP Nigel Evans told MailOnline Britain would not be cowed by the prospect of retaliatory action. 

Fears were growing tonight Russia could name alleged British spies in a tit-for-tat reprisal to Theresa May (pictured today in the Commons) ordering 23 Kremlin agents out of London

Fears were growing tonight Russia could name alleged British spies in a tit-for-tat reprisal to Theresa May (pictured today in the Commons) ordering 23 Kremlin agents out of London

Russia's ambassador to London Alexander Yakovenko has already signalled the likelihood of retaliatory expulsions from Moscow 

Russia’s ambassador to London Alexander Yakovenko has already signalled the likelihood of retaliatory expulsions from Moscow 

The Ribble Valley MP said: ‘I expect a tit for tat expulsion as we have already been warned by Moscow that that is what they will do- but we will not be cowed by Russia.

‘They sent a chilling signal to the whole world by their inhuman poison attack in Salisbury and it’s time for the world to send a signal to Moscow.’ 

Addressing Mrs May in the Commons earlier, Labour MP John Woodcock warned the situation would ‘get more difficult before it gets better’. 

She replied: ‘We recognise that there might be further Russian provocation. If there is, we have further measures we can deploy, but it is important—and we will encourage our international allies to do this too—that we recognise that this is an important moment to stand up and say to Russia, “No, you cannot do this!”

Professor Malcolm Chalmers, the deputy director of security think tank RUSI, said: ‘The expulsion of 23 diplomats is a very significant number.

‘There are 58 Russian diplomats in their embassy now accredited on the diplomatic list – that’s a high proportion of the Russian presence.

‘I think everybody expects a reciprocal act in the other direction in relation to the UK presence in Moscow.’ 

Prof Chalmers said Mrs May had attempted a ‘balancing act’ between measures too small to make a difference and so large there is a major escalation.   

Mrs May ordered 23 Russian diplomats linked to the Russian Embassy in Kensington (pictured) out of Britain, insisting they were spies. She said the move would degrade Russian intelligence activity in London

Mrs May ordered 23 Russian diplomats linked to the Russian Embassy in Kensington (pictured) out of Britain, insisting they were spies. She said the move would degrade Russian intelligence activity in London

In the biggest diplomatic swipe for decades, the Prime Minister gave the ‘undeclared intelligence agents’ a week to leave the country and suspended ‘all high level contact’ with the country.

Mrs May also paved the way for a crackdown on cronies of Vladimir Putin, suggesting there would be no tolerance for corrupt money in London and raising the prospect of asset seizures.

As relations with Moscow reached new lows in the wake of the attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, the premier also suggested that covert reprisals would be undertaken – in an apparent hint at cyber attacks.

Mrs May – who directly condemned Vladimir Putin in her statement to the Commons – said she was determined that the measures would ‘fundamentally degrade Russian intelligence’ capability in the UK.

‘They have treated the use of this poison with sarcasm and disdain… There is no other conclusion other than that the Russian state was responsible for the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal and his daughter,’ Mrs May said.

Mrs May said: ‘Under the Vienna Convention the United kingdom will now expel 23 Russian diplomats who have been identified as undeclared intelligence officers – they have just one week to leave.

‘This will be the single biggest expulsion in over 30 years and it reflects the fact this is not the first time that the Russian state has acted against our country.

‘Through these expulsions we will fundamentally degrade Russian intelligence capability in the UK for years to come. And if they seek to rebuild it we will prevent them from doing so.’ 

The carefully-calibrated package was widely welcomed by MPs, although some warned that the government must be ready to step up action again if necessary. The UK has also called for an urgent meeting of the UN security council.

But Russia immediately threatened to hit back in kind.

 


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