Russia expels British military attache in diplomatic tit for tat

<span>The union flag flies from the British ambassador’s car in Moscow. The Kremlin has indicated it plans further action against the British diplomatic mission.</span><span>Photograph: Pavel Golovkin/AP</span>
The union flag flies from the British ambassador’s car in Moscow. The Kremlin has indicated it plans further action against the British diplomatic mission.Photograph: Pavel Golovkin/AP

Russia is expelling Britain’s defence attache to Moscow in the latest diplomatic tit for tat, after the UK accused it of sponsoring espionage and hacking attacks against top British officials in a years-long campaign of “malign activity”.

The Russian foreign ministry said it had declared the British defence attache, Adrian Coghill, as “persona non grata. He must leave the territory of the Russian Federation within a week.”

It came in response to the UK decision on 8 May to expel Russia’s defence attache, whom the UK accused of being an “undeclared military intelligence officer”, and to remove diplomatic status from the Russian-owned Seacox Heath property in Sussex and the Russian embassy’s trade and defence section in Highgate. The UK also imposed new restrictions on Russian diplomatic visas, including the length of time Russian diplomats can spend in the country.

The UK said the properties had been used for intelligence purposes and accused Russia of sponsoring a Bulgarian spy ring in Britain, inciting a further five individuals to undertake “‘hostile activity in the UK in order to benefit a foreign state – namely Russia”, and of carrying out hacking attacks against UK parliamentarians and leaking UK-US trade documents.

In a statement, the Russian foreign ministry indicated it would take further action against the British diplomatic mission to Russia, saying the “initiators of the escalation will be informed about further retaliatory steps”.

Relations have been strained since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the novichok poisoning attack in Salisbury of 2018, and Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The UK has provided weapons and intelligence to Ukraine, which Moscow has said risks making London a direct party to the war.

Earlier this month, the UK foreign secretary, David Cameron, said Ukraine had the right to use British weapons, including long-range precision strike missiles, inside of Russia, a line that other allies, including the US, have been hesitant to cross.

Ukraine has the right to strike inside Russia because Russia is striking inside Ukraine … You can understand why Ukraine feels the need to defend itself,” he told Reuters. He said the decision where to use the weapons would be up to Ukraine.

Russia cited those remarks, as well as suggestions by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, that Nato troops could be sent to Ukraine, to justify tactical nuclear drills in regions bordering Ukraine.

The expulsion comes shortly after a shake-up in the Russian defence ministry. Putin has appointed a veteran technocrat, Andrei Belousov, as defence minister in order to streamline Russian military production, a decision analysts said indicated he was preparing for a long war of attrition in Ukraine.

The Russian leader is now on a state visit to China with Belousov and his former defence minister Sergei Shoigu. The talks are believed to include discussing military cooperation and security.