Russia responds with UK expulsion
Russia has stepped up its spying row with Britain, declaring the expulsion of a diplomat from its London Embassy as groundless and unfriendly.
Foreign Secretary William Hague announced that he had requested the diplomat's removal "in response to clear evidence of activities by the Russian intelligence services against UK interests".
The Kremlin responded with the tit-for-tat expulsion of a member of staff from the UK Embassy in Moscow.
The Russian foreign ministry issued a statement declaring itself the injured party, saying: "The British side took an unfriendly step the other day, having groundlessly declared one of our colleagues in our embassy in London persona non grata. We were forced to take an adequate corresponding measure."
The statement described Britain as the "initiator" of the row and voiced regret that it had come at a time when "encouraging trends" had been developing in Anglo-Russian relations.
The mutual diplomatic expulsions are the first since 2007, when relations went into the deep freeze following the murder in London of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned with radioactive polonium.
MI5 director general Jonathan Evans has repeatedly complained about Russian spying activities in the UK. It is thought that around 30 Russian Embassy staff are suspected of being undeclared intelligence agents.
Relations have also been strained by allegations of espionage against Ekaterina Zatuliveter, a parliamentary assistant to Liberal Democrat MP Mike Hancock, though sources said that the current round of expulsions is not linked to her case.
A source said that the Russian diplomat was withdrawn for "breaching the rules" governing diplomatic conduct: "We are not talking about murder or stealing the Trident launch codes. But it was crossing a line. It's a breach of the rules and it justified a response."
The source added that Moscow's tit-for-tat response was "completely unjustified".