Kremlin condemns Westminster for expelling diplomats, violating international law

Russian Embassy 5 Kensington Palace Gardens, London. © Kbthompson
Russia has issued a scathing attack on Westminster for attempting to “wreck the international order” by quietly expelling four Russian diplomats from the UK following a subtle shift in the government’s visa policy.

The Russian diplomats have been forced to return to Moscow, with no immediate opportunity of returning to their duties in London.

In a searing public assault on the government, the Russian Embassy in London accused the Home Office and Foreign Office of fostering global tension and violating the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations.

The international treaty, which was implemented in 1964, lays out a framework for diplomatic relations between independent states. It outlines the privileges of diplomatic missions, which allow diplomats to carry out their duties free from fear of harassment or coercion by the host state. It also forms the legal foundation for diplomatic immunity.

The diplomats uprooted from London include Sergey Nalobin, who was responsible for brokering relations with UK MPs. He was reportedly a familiar sight around Westminster, enjoying drinks with politicians and a regular attendee of political party gatherings.

Nalobin, who was accused of pushing the Kremlin’s interests among Conservative Party members in 2013, had resided in the UK for over five years. He returned to Moscow on Tuesday.

The embassy has also flagged concerns over what it calls “political or psychological pressure” being inflicted on Russian nationals visiting the UK. It says UK border officials’ conduct in this respect is risky and confrontational.

The diplomatic rift marks a fresh deterioration in already fraught UK-Russian relations.

Diplomatic relations between the states have been particularly strained over Russian military flights close to UK airspace, NATO exercises in Eastern Europe and sanctions imposed over the Ukraine crisis.

The spat follows the completion of a UK inquiry into the death of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko. London’s Metropolitan Police say Moscow was involved in the murder of the former KGB agent who worked for British intelligence. Litvinenko died in hospital in London in 2006 after drinking tea allegedly laced with a radioactive isotope.

A spokesman for the Russian embassy said the expulsion of Russian diplomats from London is a direct attempt to erode Russia’s “diplomatic presence” in Britain. He stressed the move is in violation of international law.

A spokeswoman for Britain’s Foreign Office told the Telegraph Britain’s visa policy for Russian Embassy staff “reflects the arrangements for British Embassy staff in Moscow.”

But she conceded processing times for Russian visas have been whittled down over the last year.

Dozens of Russian diplomats were expelled from the UK for espionage during the Cold War. However, no evidence has surfaced that this diplomatic rift relates to covert intelligence gathering.