'Missing' Russian spy defects to Britain

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The Independent Online
A Russian diplomat has defected to Britain after disappearing with his family from his posting at the embassy in Paris three weeks ago, British sources said yesterday.

They confirmed a Russian news agency report that Viktor Oshchenko - a counsellor at the embassy in Paris and described by Moscow as an employee of Russia's foreign intelligence service - had been accepted as a defector to Britain. But there was no independent confirmation of an Itar-Tass report that he had been involved in a 'double game' and co-operating with a Western intelligence service before defecting.

The Russian embassy said Mr Oshchenko, who specialised in science and technology, had refused to meet Russian embassy officials in Britain. An embassy spokesman said: 'We have been informed about the presence in this country of the Russian diplomat Mr Oshchenko, who disappeared from our embassy in Paris at the end of July. Further to our inquiries, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office confirmed his and his family's presence here in Britain.

'We have been told that Mr Oshchenko had declined to have a suggested meeting with a consular official of the Russian embassy.'

The end of the Cold War has not meant that Russian diplomats have stopped defecting to the West; their reasons for defecting can be personal or financial, as well as political. Since the end of the Cold War, however, not all Russian defectors are accepted; the fact that Mr Oshchenko has been allowed to remain indicates that his past role was an important one and of some use to British intelligence.

Like Mikhail Bitov, a KGB agent who defected to Britain last year, Mr Oshchenko will now be assisted by British intelligence in assuming a new identity and beginning a new life in this country. The Home Office confirmed that it was processing applications for leave to remain on behalf of Mr Oshchenko, his wife and teenage daughter.