Britain tries to play down 'spying' row: Tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions with Russians may damage bilateral relations and prove espionage has survived Cold War

BRITISH officials tried to convince the public yesterday that a new tit-for- tat expulsion row with Russia had nothing to do with spying. Intelligence experts believe, however, that the affair proves espionage has not ended with the Cold War and shows Moscow's distaste for the West's hypocrisy in denouncing Russia while continuing its own spying.

The Foreign Office said it had asked a Russian diplomat to leave London because Moscow had first expelled a British diplomat. Britain regretted the demand, which it said was 'at odds with the bilateral relationship we are trying to build'. A spokeswoman at the British embassy here declined to discuss the reasons for the row but said the usual accusations of spying were not behind it. Russian officials were unavailable.

When the explusions were announced, journalists assumed there must be a connection with the case of Vadim Sintsov, a Russian arms industry official held in Moscow on charges of spying for Britain. On Thursday, Mr Sintsov appeared on Russian television to confess he had passed secrets to the British. He was arrested in January but the Russians only chose to make this public in March after the US embarrassed them by catching Aldrich Ames, a CIA official charged with working for the Kremlin.

The spokeswoman could not confirm press reports that the diplomat lost from the British embassy was the political counsellor, John Scarlett, said by Russian officials to have been the head of the MI6 office in Moscow. 'One thing I can say,' offered the spokeswoman, 'is that there is no connection with either the Sintsov case or the Ames case.'

It seemed significant that the expulsion row coincided with the appearance of Mr Sintsov on Russian television. His confession, apparently filmed in his cell in Moscow's Lefortovo Prison, was reminiscent of the public self-denunciations the KGB used to force traitors and dissidents to make in Soviet times, for which they sometimes won lighter sentences. Mr Sintsov is charged with high treason, which still carries a maximum penalty of death.

The middle-aged, bespectacled spy, who had an unspecified 'high post' in the military-industrial complex, said the British had originally recruited him outside Russia and had wanted to know about Russia's arms supplies to the Middle East.

'A certain James Self began to work with me,' said Mr Sintsov. 'And some time after that, he introduced me to his successor as liaison officer.' Whether this successor was the expelled diplomat was not clear.

How much Mr Sintsov has served the West's interests and damaged Moscow's security is unclear. Nikolai Golushko, recently sacked by Boris Yeltsin as head of Russian intelligence, compared him to Oleg Penkov sky, the colonel executed by Moscow for helping the US and Britain at the time of the Cuban missile crisis. But Mr Golushko may have been exaggerating to match Washington's claim that Mr Ames had done unprecedented harm to the US.

The atmosphere of extreme mutual suspicion and hostility which prevailed in Penkovsky's day is gone and East and West are more or less co-operating. But few doubt that spying is still a career option with a future.

In Russia, many scientists and people with a military background are suffering acute economic hardship and some may be prepared to sell their knowledge to the highest bidder, be it Britain, Libya or Iraq. In the West, there is anxiety about the condition of the arsenals of the former Soviet Union and about Russian arms sales, both subjects of interest to MI6 and the CIA.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
Sport
football
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us