Ambassador accuses British media of anti-Russia campaign

Yuri Fedotov has singled out BBC's Newsnight for alleging 'state involvement' in Alexander Litvinenko's death. By Julian Borger

Russia's ambassador in Britain has alleged an organised anti-Moscow campaign is being waged through the British media, and has called on the government to speak out on the issue.

Yuri Fedotov responded angrily to a string of reports quoting unnamed British security officials emphasising the security threat posed by Russian spies operating in Britain. He singled out a report on BBC's Newsnight, in which a security source said there was Russian "state involvement" in the killing of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 and an attempt on the life of another dissident, Boris Berezovsky.

On Wednesday The Guardian quoted Whitehall officials as saying MI5 had bolstered its counter-espionage efforts for the first time since the end of the cold war, mainly against Russian and Chinese spies in London. Counter-intelligence officers claimed there were 30 agents operating out of the Russian embassy and trade mission in London - "the same level as in Soviet times".

"I want to express my disappointment over the campaign organised against Russia recently in the British media," Fedotov told The Guardian. "There have been allegations made on the basis of interviews with officials allegedly belonging to counter-intelligence in MI5. If they really gave those interviews then that is part of the official structures accusing the Russian government of involvement in criminal cases; it is only natural for those officials to confirm or deny these allegations."

Asked who he thought was organising the alleged campaign, the ambassador said: "It is hard to say, but this campaign coincided with the meeting between Gordon Brown and Dmitry Medvedev. It seems there are some people who do not like the improvement in our relations."

Reports of Brown's's meeting with Russia's new president at the G8 summit this week suggested none of the most divisive issues in bilateral relations, the Litvinenko affair, Russia's closing of two British Council offices and the handling of the TNK-BP joint oil venture, had been resolved. Fedotov, ambassador to London since 2005, said the meeting had been useful, but added "one meeting is usually not enough" to deal with complex issues.

Britain has called for the extradition of the man named as the chief suspect in the Litvinenko killing, Andrei Lugovoi, but Russia has refused, saying such an extradition would breach its constitution. Fedotov said 20 Russian requests were pending for extradition of crime suspects living in Britain.


Julian Borger, diplomatic editor

The GuardianTramp

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