The Government is preparing to expel dozens of Russian spies operating in Britain as the diplomatic tensions with President Putin escalate.
MI5 has helped draw up a list of suspected agents, including at least 34 diplomats in the Russian embassy, who could be targeted in a mass expulsion.
The Mail on Sunday has learned the list includes two of the most senior embassy officials, political section chief Alexander Sternik and senior counsellor Andrey Pritsepov, aide to the Russian ambassador and known as a ‘gastronaut’ for his reviews of London’s finest restaurants.
The purge of alleged members of Russia’s foreign intelligence services, the SVR, and military intelligence agency, the GRU, is being planned in response to the intimidation of British diplomats and British Council staff in Russia, as well as President Putin’s continued refusal to extradite the prime suspect in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko.
But Whitehall officials and Government Ministers are said to be undecided whether a repeat of the mass expulsions of 1971, when Edward Heath’s Government ejected 105 spies, would be wise.
One source said: “If known Russian agents are removed they would only be replaced by new unidentified people and MI5 would have to start operations against them from scratch.”
Inside the imposing Russian embassy in London’s most exclusive street, Kensington Palace Gardens, officers of the SVR, formerly part of the feared KGB, work to steal Britain’s state secrets and monitor Russia’s ‘enemies’ in the UK, such as dissident oligarch Boris Berezovsky and Chechen former Minister of Foreign Affairs Akhmed Zakayev.