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Spy Poison Standoff: Twitter Diplomacy in Kensington

Megaphone tactics: Ambassador Yakovenko Alexander Vladimirovich and his diplomats have been stating Russia’s position on Twitter | RUSSIAN EMBASSY

Ambassador Yakovenko Alexander Vladimirovich and his embassy staff have been cranking up the volume at number 5 Kensington Palace Gardens all day as the countdown loomed to an ultimatum to come clean over the source of the nerve agent used in the poisoning of double agent Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33. In fact the diplomatic outpost is well known for its no-holds barred approach to defending the country on social media. Its Twitter handle @RussianEmbassy is famous for its antics and posts whenever it faced down Russia’s critics and rounded on the peddlers of “fake news”. It recently made the news when it delivered a withering review of the BBC drama McMafia based loosely on an emigre Russian family with underworld connections.

McMafia: Alex Godman, the English-raised son of Russian mafia exiles, has spent his life trying to escape the shadow of their past, building his own legitimate business and forging a life with his girlfriend, Rebecca. But when a murder unearths his family’s past, Alex is drawn into the criminal underworld where he must confront his values to protect those he loves | Publicity poster/BBC

The characters in McMafia have their fingers in everything unpleasant from prostitution, people trafficking and contract killings. But the Russian embassy’s Twitter account took a dim view of the portrayal saying the drama “depicts Britain as a playground for Russian gangsters” and asked its 64,000 followers in an online poll to guess how many Russian criminals were in UK prisons.

Family bond: View from the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens in a scene from McMafia | BBC

Sixty percent of voters agreed with the embassy the accurate answer was “fewer than 10”. The embassy declared: “Crime rate among Russians in UK is well below national average. Good that our followers are not buying into the cliches BBC is spreading.”

It continues to be business as usual with the embassy becoming the cynosure of all eyes as its diplomats face an uncertain future and promised reprisals from the UK government. But the embassy is not going down without a fight with tweets coming thick and fast all day on Tuesday (13 March). Officials have been firing off barbs illustrated with diagrams carrying witty captions. it also warned UK of reprisals ahead of the ultimatum.

TIT-FOR-TAT EXPULSIONS

Stalemate: A flag and a security camera are seen at one of the entrances to Russia’s embassy and consular section in London

Are we set to see removal vans trundling up Britain’s most expensive street where average homes cost £13.5m with diplomats forced to make ignominious exits? The Russian envoy since 2011, Vladimirovich, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary lives in the sumptuous grounds of number 13 assisted by 10 senior diplomatic staff occupying consular premises at 5-7 Kensington Palace Gardens with entrances on the busy Notting Hill Gate. Diplomatic ties between both countries stretches as far back as 1706 with Matveev Andrei Artamonovich recorded as the first Charge d’affair to the United Kingdom.

GAGARIN’S VISIT AND HAPPIER TIMES

Man from space: Russian cosmonaut Major Yuri Gagarin applauds the crowds in the packed entrance as he was greeted on his arrival at the Soviet Embassy in Kensington Palace Gardens, London. In foreground, below, photographers work in a press of people eager to greet the first man to journey to outer space. Major Gagarin had just driven in from London Airport to begin a visit to Britain in July 1961

Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin visited the embassy in Kensington in July 1961 to celebrate his pioneering space odyssey in a spacecraft named Vostock 1 on 12 April the same year. The programme of events marking the 50th anniversary of the feat, one of the most important events of the 20th century history, and Gagarin’s UK visit was coordinated by the British Council in partnership with the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) on 12 April 2011. But seven years later relations have turned sour and dialogue irretrievably broken down.

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