Russian senators set to discuss British spy scandal
MOSCOW, January 25 (RIA Novosti) - The upper chamber of the Russian parliament intends to discuss the recent spy scandal involving four British diplomats, the chamber's head said Wednesday.
Sergei Mironov, the speaker of the Federation Council, said senators would discuss the issue with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) at a closed session of the chamber on January 31.
"We have asked the FSB to report on the situation. Discussions will be held behind closed doors," he said.
Mironov said he was not surprised by the alleged espionage activities of the diplomats, but expressed concerns over British intelligence's involvement in financing Russian non-governmental organizations (NGO).
"It is no secret that intelligence services often make use of diplomatic status in their work. But their involvement in financing non-governmental organizations is something new," the speaker said.
NGOs backed by foreign funding are thought to have played a major role in the "revolutions" that have swept former Soviet states in recent years, prompting some Russian politicians to raise concerns that similar activity was being carried out in Russia. Parliament passed a bill restricting the operation of NGOs at the end of last year.
Mironov said the spy scandal was a "weighty argument" in favor of the new law, even though it had been criticized by some Russian and foreign politicians and organizations. He refuted charges that the scandal had been deliberately designed to promote the bill, which was passed by the both chambers in December 2005, and signed by president Putin this month.
"It is clear from the video footage that the diplomats had been under observation since September," which runs contrary to the allegation, he said.
The spy scandal erupted after state-owned TV channel Rossiya broke the news Sunday evening in a program featuring video footage, and interviews with people who said they were representatives of the FSB.
They said British agents had planted electronics and a transmitter in an imitation rock on a Moscow street, allowing agents to upload classified computer data that could then be downloaded by British Embassy employees. The allegations in the program were based on a recording made by a hidden FSB camera.
The FSB said it had identified four British agents operating in Moscow under diplomatic cover and had seized a high-tech British spying device used to contact agents.
The security service also alleged that Marc Doe, a first secretary at the British Embassy in Moscow, had been authorizing regular payments to Russian non-governmental organizations. Several documents signed by him were shown as evidence of cash payments to NGOs operating in Moscow, including 23,000 pounds (about $40,000) to the Moscow Helsinki Group, and 5,719 pounds ($9,700) to the Eurasia Foundation. The former has denied any wrongdoing.