Russia blames 'unfriendly' Britain for expulsions
Russia on Wednesday blamed "unfriendly" behaviour by Britain for sparking new Cold War-style tit-for-tat expulsions that risk derailing a cautious rapprochement between the countries.
Britain had announced that earlier this month it expelled a Russian diplomat in retaliation for intelligence activities by Moscow, which responded by kicking out a British embassy staffer six days later.
"The British side took an unfriendly step by declaring one of the diplomats of our London embassy persona-non-grata, without any foundation," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
"We were forced to take an adequate measure in response... The responsibility for the consequences of this incident fully lies with those who initiated it," the ministry added.
Foreign Secretary William Hague Tuesday said that Britain on December 10 requested that the Russian Embassy in London withdraw a member of its staff from the country.
"This was in response to clear evidence of activities by the Russian intelligence services against UK interests," Hague said, adding that Russia responded on December 16 by requesting the removal of a British embassy staffer in Moscow.
The names of the individuals involved have not been disclosed.
Britain's diplomatic relations with Russia are only just emerging from an icy period after the murder by poisoning of the dissident Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.
London demanded Moscow extradite the chief suspect, lawmaker Andrei Lugovoi, but Russia refused. Both sides have refused to shift their positions in a row that led to near stalemate in relations.
Ties were also strained by Russia's 2008 war with Georgia and the unwillingness of Britain to extradite Russian tycoons wanted by Moscow who fled to London.
But Russian officials have in recent months spoken of a possible reset in Moscow-London ties after the Conservative-Liberal coalition under Prime Minister David Cameron came to power.
The Russian foreign ministry said in its statement that it regretted that Britain's actions had come just when "the first encouraging trends in our relations with Britain had appeared."
Cameron said in November he would make his first official visit to Russia in 2011, in what would be the first trip to Russia by a British premier since Tony Blair in 2005.
The Britain-Russia rapprochement had already been damaged by a row over British moves to deport Russian citizen Katya Zatuliveter, 25, who worked as a parliamentary researcher and is suspected of espionage.
Russia earlier this month launched an extraordinary attack on London over the affair, accusing it of "spymania", indulging in "theatre of the absurd" and presiding over a "shambles".
British domestic intelligence agency MI5 said Zatuliveter was working for the Russian intelligence service as a "sleeper" agent, The Sunday Times newspaper reported.
© 2010 AFP