The Home Office refused to go into details of the case of Alexander Malikov - who was given 28 days to leave - but Whitehall sources admitted that the expulsion was a "hangover" from the Cold War. Mr Malikov said last night that he was innocent. "I will fight. I will do my best to protect my name as a journalist," he said.
Mr Malikov is alleged to be a member of the Russian Federation Intelligence Service, but he said: "I have never been approached by Russian security services. I am probably not smart enough to be a spy - but I am a good journalist."
Mr Malikov, 43, has worked for the TV station Ostankino in Britain for the last four years. He was informed of the decision on 5 January and given 28 days to leave the country, the Home Office said. He lives in Kensington, west London, and conducted an interview with the Prime Minister, John Major, before his visit to Russia last February.
The Russian Interfax news agency denied that Mr Malikov had been a spy, quoting Russian intelligence sources who said that the accusations were "groundless".
The Home Office said: "The Home Secretary has personally directed that Mr Malikov be deported as his presence is not conducive to the public good for reasons of national security."
Although tight restrictions on Russian journalists no longer apply, they have to obtain special visas - the duration of which varies from case to case.
MI5 still spends about one-fifth of its resources on tackling Russian espionage. Agents are now mainly concerned with acquiring information on technology and weapons developments. Unlike during the Cold War years, they tend not to be members of embassy staff.
Mr Malikov arrived in Britain during the days of the former Soviet Union and it must be assumed he is accused of working for the former State Security Organisation, the KGB, or military intelligence, GRU.
Sources yesterday indicated it was the former, possibly seeking to find out about British foreign intelligence operators in the Soviet Union, although MI5 would have been responsible for obtaining evidence against him.
The Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office both refused to comment on the expulsion yesterday, saying that it was a Home Office matter. Other areas of continued interest to foreign intelligence services are defence equipment, codes and communications.
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