As many as 50 per cent of 150,000 London expats were informants according to a think-tank report
Half of London's Russian community spies for the Kremlin, report says
Moscow is believed to have quintupled its UK intelligence presence since 2010 as it runs a web of espionage that “comfortably” surpasses Cold War levels.
Some 200 case officers and more than 500 agents currently operate in the UK as part of a focus on “subversive, political warfare” according to the Henry Jackson Society report.
The Russian spies primary task was to gather intelligence on ‘persons of interest’ such as those who occupy, or previously held, influential positions of power related to Russia.
“Long after you’ve left Russia, you realise that Russia hasn’t left you,” the report by the Henry Jackson Society quoted one opposition figure as saying. If anything, the report said, it would be naïve to assume “Russia has given up its Cold War mind set” and is still engaged in “a broad and malevolent effort to undermining our society.”
Members of Russia’s expat community described a heightened sense of paranoia and vigilance against potential spies – evidenced by a belief that between a quarter and half of Russia’s London residents were informants.
“Britain and the West as a whole face an unrelenting assault from Putin’s bloated intelligence and security agencies. They may have been unable to conceal their incompetence, but they are large, well-funded and have sinister intent,” said Sir Malcom Rifkind, a former chairman of the intelligence and security chairman.
It comes amid a time of heightened fears over Russian interference after the poisoning of The poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March of this year. UK prime minister Theresa May immediately responded by expelling 23 “undeclared intelligence officers.”
Despite this, Sir Richard Dearlove, the former MI6 chief, said: “Russian Intelligence activity in the West is still large scale and intrusive…. we need to devote significant resources and expertise ourselves to monitoring and blunting this threat to our national security.”
Since the 2000’s Britain has granted political asylum to an array of Russian individuals, including former spy Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned in November 2006 with the radioactive isotope Polonium-210.
Incidents such as these, and the increased fear of the Russian intelligence services had provoked a widespread sense of paranoia among the exile community the report by Dr Andrew Foxall said.
Vladimir Ashurkov, a former investment banker and critical of Russian president Vladimir Putin, described fleeing Moscow for London in 2014 after his flat was raided. This followed months of him being stalked by intelligence operatives.
Only six months after arriving in London, Mr Ashurkov realised he was being followed and said there was an assumption “all my emails are intercepted and read.”
“I had a meeting with a friend in a hotel, a Russian businessman who lives in London but
frequently travels to Moscow. We met at a hotel for a coffee. We go way back, perhaps 15 years or so,” Mr Ashurkov was quoted as saying.
“When he next travelled to Moscow, the following week, he met with some
people from the security services. They knew about our meeting, where we met and what we discussed,” he added.
Much of the intelligence work was incredibly basic and obvious. One tactic was to place agents at the press conferences of dissidents to ask uncomfortable questions or engage in public discussions to incriminate the target.
However, agents could also be much more intimidating. One London resident spoke of being on schools runs by men speaking Russian and eating foods from Russia.
The report said revoking the parliamentary access of media outlets found to be playing host to Russian spies should seriously be considered.