Britain-Russia Brawl Over Spy Poisoning Echoes U.S.-Kremlin Feud
Posted March 14, 2018 7:34 p.m. EDT
Britain’s expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats over what officials called Russia’s role in the March 4 poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil echoes the espionage feuds between Washington and Moscow.
For both Britain and the United States, such expulsions have their roots in the spying between Russia and the West that has endured since the end of the Cold War.
Here is a summary of the best-known expulsions in recent years between the United States and Russia:
— July 2017: Retaliation for a Postelection Move
President Vladimir Putin of Russia ordered the U.S. diplomatic mission to reduce its staff by 755 employees in response to American sanctions, including the expulsion of 35 Russian officials, imposed in the final weeks of President Barack Obama’s administration. Putin had delayed such a move, hoping for an improved relationship under President Donald Trump, “but, judging by everything, if it changes, it will not be soon.”
— Dec. 2016: Departing Jab by Obama White House
The United States expelled 35 Russian officials, the largest number of diplomats forced to leave since 2001, in retaliation for what American spy agencies said was Russian interference in the presidential election.
— June 2016: An Embassy Row
The United States expelled two Russian diplomats in retaliation for a bizarre episode outside the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, in which a Russian police officer attacked an American diplomat.
Russian television broadcast a short clip of the scuffle and said the American was an undercover CIA operative who had refused to show identification before entering the embassy. The State Department said the American was an “accredited diplomat” who had been assaulted as part of systematic harassment of U.S. Embassy staff members by Russian authorities.
— 2013: From Russia With Wigs
In May 2013, the Russian government ordered a U.S. Embassy official, identified as Ryan C. Fogle, to leave the country. His expulsion followed an almost comical arrest in which he was caught carrying two wigs — one blond and one brown — a Moscow street atlas, $130,000 in cash and a letter offering “up to $1 million a year for long-term cooperation.”
— 2010: A Sleeper Cell
In 2010, 10 Russians accused of membership in a sleeper cell were deported after pleading guilty to conspiracy in a federal court in New York. As part of a deal, the spies were swapped for four Russian prisoners, three serving sentences on treason convictions.
The case, often compared to the plot of a spy novel, included evidence of letters written in invisible ink, buried cash and a red-haired woman whose romantic exploits and risqué photographs made for tabloid fodder.
— 2001: An FBI Turncoat
In March 2001, the United States expelled 50 Russian diplomats in the wake of the arrest of Robert P. Hanssen, who was an FBI counterintelligence expert and had spied for Moscow for more than 15 years.
U.S. officials said Hanssen had been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars after he volunteered to turn over secrets to Russia, and they blamed the Kremlin for not turning him down or turning him in. In response, Russian officials expelled several American diplomats.
— 1994: A Mild Blowback
Shortly after the arrest of Aldrich H. Ames, a career CIA officer who turned out to be a double agent, U.S. officials expelled a senior Russian diplomat, Alexander Lyskenko, whom they called a top officer of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service. According to the State Department, Lyskenko was “in a position to be responsible” for Ames’ activities as a very productive mole.
Although Ames’ treachery was almost certainly the most damaging breach of U.S. intelligence since World War II — Moscow executed several operatives whom he had betrayed — Washington’s response was considerably less severe than it would have been in Soviet times. In the years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Clinton administration, eager to encourage friendly relations and reform, supported the new government of President Boris Yeltsin. Before Lyskenko was told to leave the country, in February 1994, the Americans even gave the Russians the option of voluntarily sending him back home.
— 1986: A Mass Expulsion
Fifty-five Soviet diplomats were expelled by President Ronald Reagan in November 1986 in an effort to curb espionage activities. Similarly, authorities in Moscow ordered 260 Soviet employees of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to stop working.
It was the largest number of diplomatic officials to be expelled by the United States at once. The conflict arose after a Soviet employee of the United Nations, Gennadi F. Zakharov, was arrested on espionage charges. The Russians responded by arresting Nicholas S. Daniloff, the Moscow correspondent for U.S. News & World Report, and accusing him of spying. Daniloff was released two weeks later.