Those Diplomatic Expulsions 146


There is a fascinating precedent for Putin’s refusal to retaliate for the expulsion of 32 Russian diplomats by Obama, an easy diplomatic win on the international stage. In 1985, my first year in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Margaret Thatcher expelled 25 Soviet diplomats identified as spies by a defector (from memory Gordievsky), and later a further six.

In return, the Soviets expelled 25 British diplomats – all of whom were not spies. This was a brilliant move which caught the British government completely on the hop. Such a high percentage of our “diplomats” in Moscow were spies, that it was a practical impossibility to accidentally expel 25 who were not. In other words the Soviets had just informed us that they knew exactly who our spies in Russia were. That sent such a juddering shock though the FCO it even reached this bewildered new entrant. Secondly, spies of course do nothing useful or practical, and expelling 25 actual diplomats was a much more crippling blow to the work of the Embassy. The FCO does not have lots of Russian speakers standing around doing nothing, ready to step in and replace.

I don’t claim any great reason for retelling this, except it is interesting and I have never seen it published elsewhere.


146 thoughts on “Those Diplomatic Expulsions

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  • Robert HARNEIS

    “I don’t claim any great reason for retelling this, except it is interesting and I have never seen it published elsewhere.”
    One of the best things about the internet is making available information like this that no government will ever williingly let us see. Thank you Craig.

  • rosemerry

    Careful-instead of “all of whom were not spies” which could mean some were spies, you mean “none of whom were spies” I assume.

  • gordon pirie

    I have never heard this interpretation of the mutual expulsions, although I was dealing with Soviet affairs at the FCO in London at the time. There were only about 6 or 7 British SIS staff in Moscow at the time and tit-for-tat expulsions were an accepted part of such events. Brilliant move? caught British government on the hop? I don’t think so.

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