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Britain Surprised, Concerned At Russian Spying Allegations

PRAGUE, 23 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The British Foreign Office today expressed "concern and surprise" at a report on Russian state television showing video footage of what it claims are British diplomats spying in Moscow.

In the program shown late on 22 January, people claiming to be Russian intelligence officers say British agents planted a transmitter in an imitation rock on a Moscow street.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) officers said four officials from the British Embassy and one Russian citizen, allegedly recruited by the British secret service, then downloaded classified data from the "rock's" transmitter.

Hidden camera footage appeared to show individuals walking up to the rock.

The program said the Russian citizen was later arrested. It also alleged one of the embassy officials involved had been authorizing regular payments to Russian nongovernmental organizations.

Some fear the "spy scandal" has been fabricated to provide a pretext to tighten control of nongovernmental groups.

"As far as I understand, the aim is to prepare the public for smashing the human rights advocates -- the most active and most independent part of civil society in Russia," Lyudmilla Alekseyeva, the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, told RFE/RL

Copyright (c) 2006. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org



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