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    British Estate Stripped of Diplomatic Immunity Amid Russian Espionage Claims

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    Seacox Heath, an English manor with a history of hosting Russian diplomats, has recently been stripped of its diplomatic status by the British government, marking a significant tightening of measures against alleged Russian espionage activities within the UK.

    The grand 19th-century Gothic castle in Sussex, owned by Russia since 1946, has been at the center of a controversy with villagers and the UK authorities suspecting it to be a hub for intelligence operations.

    In a move that has elicited jubilation among the local populace, Home Secretary James Cleverly announced the withdrawal of the special status, citing beliefs that the estate, along with other premises in the UK, has been used for intelligence purposes.

    This is seen as one of the most substantial actions against Russian intelligence since the Cold War, aiming to target and dismantle Russian intelligence-gathering operations.

    Villagers in the sleepy Sussex countryside have long expressed concerns over the mysterious goings-on within the walls of what they dubbed the ‘Little Kremlin.’ Their suspicions seemed to be confirmed when they reported drone activity over their homes, which they believed was in retaliation against anti-war and anti-Putin protests they had staged outside the estate’s gates.

    The protests intensified following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, with villagers displaying Ukrainian flags and graffiti at the estate’s entrance, expressing solidarity with Ukraine and disdain for the Kremlin’s actions.

    The government has also moved to expel Colonel Maxim Elovik, named as a Russian defense attaché, over allegations of spying. Elovik, who has been in Britain for around a decade, has been identified as an ‘undeclared military intelligence officer’ by Mr. Cleverly.

    This revelation undercuts Elovik’s previous engagement with top British military officials, including a meeting with Britain’s Chief of Defence Staff in September 2022, for what was then seen as a diplomatic dialogue.

    The estate, which has now reverted to British territory, will remain Russian-owned. However, its occupants will no longer be protected by diplomatic immunity, which previously shielded them from criminal investigations.

    This stripping of protections aligns with the broader government strategy to restrict Russian diplomatic visas, implementing a cap on how long diplomats can stay in the country.

    Local campaigners like Rebecca de Saintonge and Philippa Reid expressed their satisfaction with the government’s decision, citing it as a symbolic victory that brings back a “little patch of land” to British control.

    Their grassroots efforts, which included staging protests, are believed to have played a role in shedding light on the manor’s dubious use.

    The issue of Russian-owned properties being utilized for espionage is not isolated to Sussex. The government has indicated that several other properties, including those in Highgate, north London, which has been described as a “den of spies,” have also lost their diplomatic status.

    As tensions continue to rise in the wake of the war in Ukraine and amid persistent fears of Kremlin espionage across Europe, the UK’s decisive action serves as a stark message to Russia.

    While the Russian foreign ministry has criticized the UK’s decision, stating that any unfriendly actions will receive a commensurate response, the move has been largely welcomed domestically as a firm stance against unauthorized foreign intelligence activity on British soil.

    Relevant articles:
    Inside Putin’s English palace: how a Sussex manor became a club for Russian spies, The Independent
    Secrets of the Kent Kremlin: Putin’s English spy mansion, The Telegraph
    Sussex villagers claim victory over Russia after 50-room mansion dubbed ‘the Little Kremlin’ in the heart of the English countryside is stripped of its diplomatic status, Daily Mail Online
    Britain is cracking down on Russian spies as Moscow’s defence attaché is expelled and ‘Putin’s Palace’ is shut down, Daily Mail Online

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