Britain Expels 6 More Soviets Named as Spies

Times Staff Writer

Britain’s relations with the Soviet Union plummeted to their lowest point in more than a decade Monday as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government accused six more Soviet citizens of spying and ordered them to leave the country.

The British action followed intense consultations between Thatcher and senior Cabinet colleagues throughout much of the day. It marked the third salvo in what has become an unprecedented series of tit-for-tat expulsions between London and Moscow.

The expulsions followed the recent defection of Oleg A. Gordievski, the senior KGB man at the Soviet Embassy here, who reportedly was a longtime double agent.


Threat to East-West Relations

The ensuing diplomatic battle, which saw 25 Soviets expelled from Britain last Thursday, followed 48 hours later by Moscow’s retaliatory expulsion of 25 Britons from the Soviet Union, has severely strained Anglo-Soviet ties. It also threatens to infect the larger realm of East-West relations before the U.S.-Soviet summit meeting Nov. 19-20 in Geneva.

“Our original expulsions were justified by plain evidence of quite unacceptable conduct from an unimpeachable source, the senior KGB officer resident in this country,” said British Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe, referring to the information Gordievski provided.

Reaction ‘Unjustified’

“The Soviet reaction to that was unjustified,” Howe said. “We have considered and have decided to expel six more Soviet citizens involved similarly in unacceptable activities.”

Those Soviets ordered home include a first secretary at the Soviet Embassy, an assistant naval attache, a correspondent for the Soviet domestic news agency Novosti, the director of an Anglo-Soviet shipping line and two embassy clerks.

All six were given three weeks to leave Britain, Foreign Office officials said.

Foreign Office sources said the expulsion of the two diplomats will not affect the total number of Soviet diplomatic positions permitted in Britain, recently raised from 39 to 46. This concession was apparently made to soften the political impact of the expulsions but was also seen as an attempt to safeguard British diplomatic positions in Moscow.

Howe expressed hope that Monday’s action would end the diplomatic feud between the two countries. But an angry statement issued by the Soviet Embassy indicated that Moscow is in no mood for conciliation.

“The embassy vigorously protests against this gross, provocative measure of purely political character,” said the embassy’s press attache, Alexei L. Nikiforov, reading from a prepared text outside the embassy gates. “The entire responsibility for the consequences of this action rests with the British side.”

“It is hard to discern the professed desire of the British for better relations in these actions,” he added.

Howe admitted that the Soviets might retaliate yet again with more expulsions.

Desire to End ‘This Business’

“There is that danger, but it would be quite unjustified,” he said. “We want to see this business brought to an end.”

Monday’s decision followed two days of consultations involving Thatcher, Howe and Home Secretary Douglas Hurd, the Cabinet minister responsible for Britain’s internal security.

In ordering the expulsions, Thatcher took a hard, uncompromising line that has characterized her style of government. A second, milder option, which was reportedly considered but rejected by the prime minister, would have reduced the recently raised Soviet diplomatic ceiling, a course that would have avoided further expulsions.

The Foreign Office did, however, reduce by six, from 211 to 205, the total number of Soviets--including embassy support personnel, journalists and businessmen--permitted to work in the country.

After Thatcher departed Monday on a trip to Egypt and Jordan, Howe defended the latest expulsions, asserting they were not taken out of spite or pique but were a “rational defense of Britain’s national interests.”

He described the 25 Soviets ordered out of Britain last week as those “most seriously implicated” in espionage activities by Gordievski, while Monday’s expulsions involved those whose activities were “less serious” though they were “equally implicated.”

“They were not picked off a list at random,” he said. “We had to take this action to uphold Britain’s national security.”

The expulsions brought Anglo-Soviet relations to the worst crisis since 1971, when the then-Conservative government of Prime Minister Edward Heath ordered 105 Soviet diplomats out of the country after the defection of Soviet agent Oleg Lyalin.

That action, followed by Moscow’s expulsion of 18 Britons from the Soviet Union, led to a diplomatic chill and a drop in trade between the two countries that even the detente of the mid-1970s was unable to overcome.

However, those experts here who monitor relations with the Soviet Union note some significant differences in the current mood that could mitigate the impact of the current crisis.

Despite Thatcher’s hard line in the current crisis, her government has placed a high priority on improving relations with the Soviet Union since she won reelection in 1983. British government statements since the initial expulsions have repeatedly stressed that this goal remains government policy.

Moscow, too, wants to maintain a working relationship with Britain, which it sees as a valuable outlet of Western technology. Only two of the 25 Britons it expelled last Saturday were businessmen, and a British trade delegation, although reduced in stature, since has been received in Moscow.