The British security agency, MI5 has quietly but effectively stepped up protection offered to Russians residing in the UK after the alleged poisoning of Russians Sergei and Yulia Skripal in 2018 in Salisbury. MI5 specifically remarked that Russia is keen in the whereabouts of certain Britishers, thus requiring added security measures.
The revelation was made by two MI5 agents, one of them identified as certain Tom, who also heads the British spy agency’s Russian counter-espionage desk. He said, “The reason we have a very developed understanding of the people at risk and the mitigations that I’ve described in place is that we know that the Russian state continues to take an interest in people here who we deem to be at risk.”
“And that’s not a passive interest. It’s quite an active interest. So we think that they are probably still trying to collect information about people. To what end? It’s not immediately apparent, but we’re not going to take any risks of finding out that the intelligence that they’ve been collecting has been towards some kind of physical attack,” he added.
Last year the UK agency was under criticism for not taking Russia seriously and taking “eye off the ball” over Russian reports forwarded by parliament’s intelligence and security committee. This has put added pressure on both Downing Street and MI5. The crucial report’s publication was delayed by Boris Johnson, allegedly to avoid negative propaganda of whether Kremlin details had any impact on the 2016 Brexit vote.
Post that the UK government hasn’t shied away from taking action against Russian officials. Last year No 10 had sanctioned a group of Kremlin officials over the poisoning of opposition leader and Putin critic, Alexei Navalny.
The list of people having ramped up security now is long, but names haven’t been disclosed. The list most likely includes Russians in UK who are at high risk from Kremlin, including former agent Skripal, other well connected Russians, and also non-Russians who pose threat to Kremlin.
MI5 shares that Kremlin is most keen to set up its spying network in the UK after its agents in the embassy were expelled after the Salisbury attack. But in a change in fashion, Russia is now inclined to have its agents outside the embassy, posing as tourists, journalists, and academicians.