Britain has told Russia to back off
with the espionage. Britain believes there are as many Russian spies in the
United Kingdom as there were at the height of the Cold War. The Brits don't
like this one bit, and the Russians profess innocence.
This time around, the Russian intel efforts are not
directed at stealing military secrets and technology, but in gaining access to
senior government decision making, and dealing with Russian expatriates who are
seen as a problem back home. This would include wealthy Russians who fled to
Britain when the backed the wrong politicians back home. Then there are the
exiled leaders of rebel, or simply rebellious, movements inside Russia.
Finally, there are those exiled Russians who are simply critical of how Russia
is being run.
What Britain fears is that these Russian agents,
often acting under cover of diplomatic immunity (via a cover job at the Russian
embassy) are threatening, blackmailing, or even physically harming these
Russian refugees and migrants. Particularly worrisome is a law passed in Russia
last year, which authorizes the state security services (there are several) to
hunt down and kill "enemies of the state" no matter where they may be in the
world. At the time, it was thought that this was directed at Islamic
terrorists. But as the law was worded, it includes the broader category of,
well, anyone ("enemies of the state.") Thus all these agents in Britain
(thought to be 60 or more), have a license to kill. In November, 2006, a
Russian refugee, Alexander Litvinenko, was killed via radioactive polonium 210.
A subsequent investigation by British police led back to Russia. Someone apparently
used their license to kill.