Spy claims against diplomat cast shadow over Anglo-Russian relations

Denis Keefe
Widespread allegations of espionage against Britain’s deputy ambassador to Russia threaten to derail the ongoing diplomatic rapprochement between Russia and the United Kingdom, according to a leading British newspaper. Painstaking efforts to rebuild Anglo-Russian relations, which crumbled after the 2006 assassination of Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko in London, are scheduled to culminate later this week, when senior Russian cabinet officials will be visiting London for a “strategic dialogue” with their British counterparts. But British newspaper The Sunday Telegraph reports that Whitehall is increasingly annoyed by persistent attacks in the Russian media against Denis Keefe, the UK’s deputy ambassador to Moscow. Keefe, a career diplomat with over 30 years in the Foreign Office, much of it during the Cold War, is a Cambridge University graduate who speaks six languages, including fluent Russian. Prior to arriving in Moscow, he served as British ambassador to Georgia, where he was stationed during the 2008 Russia-Georgia war. Almost as soon as he arrived in Russia, Keefe found himself at the center of persistent allegations in the Russian media that he is “an undercover spy, with his diplomatic position serving as a smokescreen”. Several Russian news reports have indirectly accused him of contacting dissident groups inside Russia in an effort to undermine the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Telegraph, which published for the first time an account of the Russian media claims in the West, said that Russian reporters appear to hound Keefe every time he makes a public appearance in the country. In one recent instance, two journalists asked him whether he was “a spy for MI6”, Britain’s primary external intelligence agency, insisting that he give a “straightforward answer to this question”. Keefe reportedly responded that this was “not a serious question” and had “nothing to do” with him. A few days later, a television channel in Siberia, NTN-4, said that the British diplomat was an MI6 officer and questioned whether the Russian government should allow him free movement around the country. Speaking to The Telegraph, anonymous British diplomatic sources dismissed the allegations against Keefe as “ridiculous” and claimed that they were based on a “widely discredited” list of MI6 operatives posted online in 2005. They added that the allegations against the diplomat appeared “calculated to undermine him” and at the same time subvert efforts to improve Britain’s relations with Russia. Neither MI6 nor the Russian embassy in London responded to invitations to comment on the story.

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