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," Lyudmila Alekseyeva, the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, told RFE/RL.
Lyudmila Alekseyeva (TASS)
THE END OF THE 'GOLDEN AGE' Moscow Helsinki Group founder and Chairwoman LYUDMILA ALEKSEYEVA spoke at an RFE/RL briefing in Washington, D.C., on October 26, discussing the difficulties facing Russian nongovernmental organizations. Tanya Lokshina, chairwoman of the DEMOS Center for Information and Research, also participated in the briefing.
According to Alekseyeva, who is a regular contributor to RFE/RL's Russian Service, the time in office of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin is considered a "golden age" for Russian NGOs -- even though this is "not [because] Yeltsin was a strong democrat," but rather because "society was left to its own devices and we managed to build civil society" while the "power elites" struggled among themselves and ignored the lower strata. Alekseyeva said Russia has emerged from its economic crises under President Vladimir Putin, but there is "no division of power in Russia under the model of executive vertical controls," where regional governors, a "puppet parliament," and a judiciary "stripped" of independence are under the Kremlin's control. Nonetheless, according to Alekseyeva, Russia is "not returning to Soviet times," because "today the attacks are selective" and "there is now a civil society" to resist the pressure.
Alekseyeva expressed concern that "Western democratic states don't react to attacks on human rights." She said that "in Soviet times, we few dissidents felt enormous Western support." She called that support "our shield," which she said is now missing. The supporters of civil society feel "now abandoned by Western allies," Alekseyeva said.
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