Close watchers of British-Russian affairs were not surprised that London – dubbed variously as “Moscow on the Thames” or “Londongrad” because of its emergence as a magnet for Russians – quickly made an appearance in last month’s cold-war-style narrative. Suspicion has been a feature of relations since the 2006 death of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian agent living in London who was poisoned with a rare radioactive isotope.
“You could argue that the spy ring in the US was a mere sideshow to the activities of the Russian security services in London,” says Jonathan Eyal, director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute.
Indeed, recent reports in Britain quoted unnamed intelligence experts suggesting that Russia spies here with the same intensity as during the Soviet-era KGB.
The most obvious explanation is London’s preeminent position as a base for rich oligarchs opposed to the power of Russia’s prime minister and former president, Vladimir Putin, and Russia’s secret service, now dubbed the FSB.