Hancock defends researcher’s Russian ‘insight’

By Alex Stevenson

Mike Hancock has stood by his former researcher, now facing deportation for alleged links with Russian intelligence services, 11 months after defending her employment to politics.co.uk.

The Portsmouth South MP’s employment of 25-year-old Katia Zatuliveter hit the headlines after home secretary Theresa May backed her deportation on suspicion of espionage links with Russia.

A source told the Sunday Times newspaper that her presence in Britain was “not conducive to national security”.

“There was unhappiness about what she could have access to,” the source added. “The intention is to show her the door.”

Ms Zatuliveter is appealing her deportation as reports suggested MI5 believed she was a ‘sleeper’ working for the Russian intelligence services.

Mr Hancock, who took on Ms Zatuliveter after initially employing her as an intern, insisted he has no reason to believe did anything other than “act honourably” during her two-and-a-half year period as his parliamentary researcher.

The 25-year-old had access to Commons research papers about defence and foreign policy issues.

Mr Hancock has insisted he has never seen anything in a defence select committee paper or report which is not available elsewhere, but defence analysts have pointed out Russia’s intelligence agencies will have benefited from the insight she offers.

The Lib Dem MP told politics.co.uk in an interview from January this year that he benefited from the insight she offered him into Russian affairs.

“I get a lot of knowledge – because she [Zatuliveter] takes the time and trouble to read what the Russian media are saying – about events in Britain, for example,” Mr Hancock said.

“You get a different feel for the issue. Likewise, I’m hearing from her what the Russians are saying about their own analysis of what’s going on in the world.”

Mike Hancock’s interview with politics.co.uk:

Mr Hancock sits on the Commons’ defence committee and is involved in parliament’s all-party group on Russia.

He has pointed out Ms Zatuliveter had been vetted by parliament’s security procedures, which some figures have now demanded by reviewed.

“I have never read anything in a defence select committee paper or report which was worth anyone believing they had something they could not get from another source,” he added yesterday.

“Nobody has shown me any evidence to support the view that she is a threat to the United Kingdom… she genuinely believes, and I back her 100 per cent, that she has nothing to hide and has done nothing wrong. She is not a Russian spy.”

The Sunday Times reported Ms Zatuliveter was taken into custody after MI5 suggested she was a Russian spy. If her deportation goes ahead it will be the first such action by a parliamentary passholder since the end of the Cold War.

Mr Hancock has been a keen advocate of improving UK-Russian relations, arguing that improved dialogue with Moscow would put Britain’s suspicious attitude more in line with those of European governments.

“We have a number of members in both the Lords and the commons who have a great deal of expertise relating to Russia and the former Soviet countries,” he said in January.

“I think we need to harness our position on these matters and try to draw people into a dialogue… we need to work with them. But we can’t work with them without talking to them.”

Foreign secretary William Hague visited Moscow this autumn. Russian officials are seeking to improve relations with Britain by emphasising trade ties, but it is not yet clear whether a planned visit by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov early next year will go ahead as planned.