Russia twists spy row to its own advantage

Moscow is trying to turn the Anglo-Russian spying row to its advantage, by using it as a pretext to undermine the neighbouring republic of Estonia.

As more signs emerged yesterday that the spy row between Moscow and London was being allowed to subside, there were further allegations from the Russians that the nine British diplomats accused of "spying" had been investigating the possible transfer of arms and nuclear materials to terrorists via the small Baltic state. But these allegations are probably just crude propaganda, diplomats in London and Moscow say.

The Foreign Ministry in Moscow said last week that its security services had caught an agent working for MI6, adding yesterday, for the first time, that the man was one of its own. A spokesman told Interfax news agency that the alleged spy was "a middle-ranking diplomat with good prospects". Officials threw no further light on whether Russia still intends to throw out nine British diplomats in response, prompting the most serious show- down over spying between London and Moscow since 1989.

But the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) yesterday renewed its claim that Estonia, independent from Moscow since 1991, had been involved in smuggling weapons to the IRA and to Islamic separatists in Chechnya. The FSB said the arms smuggling took placethrough Estonia's volunteer national guard, Kaitseliit (Defence League), and its secret services - an uncorroborated claim that Estonia has hotly denied, and which has prompted both sides to expel a diplomat.

Estonia still has a border dispute with Moscow, and tends to be sympathetic towards Chechnya. The Baltic republic also has a reputation for discriminating against its Russian population. "With the election campaign in full swing, many candidates, including Mr Yeltsin, happily play the patriotic card," said Izvestia yesterday. "Estonia is the most convenient target for imperial displeasure."

Allegations that senior Estonian officers were trying to sell weapons, explosives, and even nuclear materials to the IRA are seen in London as a way to elicit British sympathy for Russian action against "bandits" based in Estonia. Similar allegations preceded the invasion of Chechnya, which was portrayed as a hotbed of organised crime.

On Sunday, the Russian news agency Itar-Tass said the anti-terrorist branch of the FSB expressed willingness to exchange information with the UK and the Irish Republic on weapons smuggled from Estonia to the IRA.

On 6 May the FSB alleged that "political forces in Estonia deliberately seek to aggravate relations with Russia" by channelling weapons to Russian criminal groups and "illegal armed formations" including Chechen groups through the "extremist" Kaitseliit. Kaitseliit is in fact an official organisation playing a key role in the development of Estonia's defences while its 3,500-strong army is in its formative stages.

The latest allegations follow a stream of threats to crush Estonia if it joins Nato. Boris Yeltsin, and Presidential candidates General Alexander Lebed and Vladimir Zhirinovsky have all threatened invasion.

Western experts treat the reports of any Estonian connection with the IRA with extreme scepticism. Diplomatic sources dismiss them out of hand. David McDuff, an affiliate of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies and an expert in Estonian and Russian affairs said: "This is really crude Boy's Own stuff. But some of the media have been swallowing it."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Sport
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Amis: Taken to task over rash decisions and ill-judged statements
booksThe Zone of Interest just doesn't work, says James Runcie
Sport
Rodgers showered praise on Balotelli last week, which led to speculation he could sign the AC Milan front man
transfers
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Corporate Tax Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL ...

Relationship Manager

£500 - £600 per day: Orgtel: Relationship Manager, London, Banking, Accountant...

Marketing & PR Assistant - NW London

£15 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer

£250 - £300 per day: Orgtel: Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer Berkshir...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home