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Alleged Russian spy expelled from UK posed as a glamorous harpist

A harpist believed to be a Russian spy performed a ‘stern-faced’ concert at a small provincial church after arriving in a chauffeur-driven Mercedes and insisting on drinking her own bottled water, MailOnline can reveal.

Nina Mishchenko, 30, who arrived in Britain last year, is thought to be one of 23 attachés with no defined role at the Russian embassy who are being expelled in response to the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury.

Allegedly posing as a professional musician, she performed a string of concerts in Britain culminating in a performance to 60 people at the United Reform Church in Loughborough in December.

‘It was the sort of car the Lord Mayor would turn up in,’ concert-goer Alan Roythorne, 76, told MailOnline. ‘We did think it was a bit strange that a musician playing in a local church turned up in a gleaming Mercedes with her own driver.

‘The fact that she was allegedly a spy takes a bit of swallowing. I’m astounded. It’s rather worrying that she had another guise, to be honest.’ 

Harpist Nina Mishchenko, 30, is reportedly one of the attachés with no defined role at the Russian embassy who are being asked to leave the country this week

Ms Mishchenko said, 'the more we learn about the culture and art of different countries, the better we shall understand each other'

Ms Mishchenko said, ‘the more we learn about the culture and art of different countries, the better we shall understand each other’

The glamorous musician played a concert at Loughborough United Reform Church, arriving in a chauffeur-driven Mercedes

The glamorous musician played a concert at Loughborough United Reform Church, arriving in a chauffeur-driven Mercedes

In an interview, the alleged spy said: ‘Various legends tell us that the first stringed instrument, which later appeared as the harp, was made of an ordinary hunter’s bow.’ 

Yesterday, the Sun named Ms Mishchenko as a spy. Churchgoers were stunned when the ‘stern-faced’ musician was driven to the venue by a chauffeur who remained on guard outside the venue as she played.

‘She was whisked straight into the church and then straight out again,’ Peter Rippon, 68, one of the church volunteers, told MailOnline.

It was the sort of fancy car the Lord Mayor would turn up in 

‘She didn’t speak very much English and she was very stern-faced and cold. She was wearing a beautiful concert dress. 

‘I helped her get her harp out of the car and I remember thinking that the vehicle it wasn’t very well-suited to manhandling a harp horizontally into it. The whole thing was overly professional.’

The church has a capacity of 300, meaning that it was mostly empty for the Russian concert. Tickets were free on the door. ‘There was not a lot of smiling going on,’ Mr Roythorne added. ‘We thought it was just the Russian style, very cold and reserved. But looking back it was a very strange sensation.’

The harpist was driven off to London as soon as the concert ended. Her co-performer, Loughborough-based opera singer Maria Veretenina, is thought to be Estonian and ‘does quite a bit for Moscow State TV’, according to friends. She is believed to be currently in Russia.

Ms Mishchenko is officially single but acquaintances said they understood she was married. She has no known diplomatic experience. In an interview in February to publicise her concerts, the alleged spy said that music helps to bring people of different cultures together.

‘The language of music and art is the most comprehensible, and the more we learn about the culture and art of different countries, the better we shall understand each other,’ she said. 

Ms Mishchenko is officially single but acquaintances said they understood she was married. She has no known diplomatic experience

Ms Mishchenko is officially single but acquaintances said they understood she was married. She has no known diplomatic experience

The alleged spy's co-performer, Loughborough-based opera singer Maria Veretenina, is thought to be Estonian and 'does quite a bit for Moscow State TV', according to friends. She is understood to be currently in Russia

The alleged spy’s co-performer, Loughborough-based opera singer Maria Veretenina, is thought to be Estonian and ‘does quite a bit for Moscow State TV’, according to friends. She is understood to be currently in Russia

One of Vladimir Putin’s closest associates is an accomplished cellist. Sergei Roldugin, 64, who is worth worth at least $100million, was linked by the Panama Papers to a number of suspicious deals. The musician and businessman is also artistic director of the House of Music in St Petersburg. 

There is little to indicate why Ms Mishchenko, who was brought up in a distinguished musical family, may have turned to a life of espionage. Her sister is an orchestral soloist and her mother, Natalia, is a musician working at the Lenkom Theatre in Moscow.

Ms Mishchenko’s grandfather, Vasily Shkil, was a veteran of the Battle of Stalingrad who died this year aged 96. He was a well-known musician and played the bayan, a kind of accordion, and was head of music at Lenkom Theatre until he retired three years ago. 

At the age of six, she told the Art Around The Globe website, she was enrolled at the Music School of the Academic Music Institution, going on to graduate from the State Music College and then from the Russian Gnesin Music Academy.

In 2015, she said, she completed a post-graduate teaching programme and undertook a two-year internship in the harp at the Tchaikovsky State Conservatory. ‘I consider the language of music to be universal,’ she said. ‘It helps people to understand each other better. It does not need any interpreter.’

In the interview she was keen to emphasise the cultural exchange between Russia and Britain. ‘I had the good fortune to attend a concert in Moscow by the boys of Westminster Abbey Choir in the House of Music. It was sheer magic,’ she said. 

‘The audience held its breath while listening. The skill of the British ensemble, the Swingle Singers, has captivated audiences for over ten years. I know, too, how interested the British are in Russian music and literature.’ 

Yesterday the Sun named the harpist as one of the spies being expelled by Theresa May. In retaliation, Moscow has vowed to expel 23 British diplomats.

Speaking at the Conservative Party Spring Forum, the Prime Minster said, ‘we will never tolerate a threat to the life of British citizens and others on British soil from the Russian government’. 

She added that ‘Russian aggression is the very antithesis of the liberal and democratic values that define the United Kingdom’.

Her comments are likely to deepen diplomatic tensions between Britain and Russia which have intensified during the Salisbury spy poisoning stand-off.

Russia’s decision to expel diplomats came after the Prime Minister expelled 23 Russian diplomats from the UK who she said were ‘undeclared intelligence officers’ earlier this week.

Moscow had failed to respond to a deadline set by May to explain how the nerve agent that poisoned former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia found its way into Britain.

The pair were found unconscious on a bench outside a shopping centre in Salisbury on March 4.

They were poisoned by a deadly nerve agent called Novichok and remain critically ill in hospital.

Moscow has said the British diplomats must leave within a week – the same deadline given to Russian diplomats by Theresa May. 

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it is ordering the closure of the British Council in Russia, which promotes British culture.

It will also be ending an agreement to reopen the British Consulate in St Petersburg.

If Britain makes any more ‘unfriendly’ moves the government could take further measures, the statement said.

The Prime Minster said 'we will never tolerate a threat to the life of British citizens and others on British soil from the Russian government'

The Prime Minster said ‘we will never tolerate a threat to the life of British citizens and others on British soil from the Russian government’

She added that 'Russian aggression is the very antithesis of the liberal and democratic values that define the United Kingdom'

She added that ‘Russian aggression is the very antithesis of the liberal and democratic values that define the United Kingdom’

Britain’s Foreign Office has said the Government ‘anticipated a response of this kind and the National Security Council will meet early next week to consider next steps’.  

British ambassador to Russia Laurie Bristow was summoned for a meeting with the Russian Foreign Ministry early on Saturday.

Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced it had ordered the diplomats to leave moments after Mr Bristow left the ministry in Moscow.

'Russia's response doesn't change the facts of the matter - the attempted assassination of two people on British soil for which there is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian state was culpable' she said

‘Russia’s response doesn’t change the facts of the matter – the attempted assassination of two people on British soil for which there is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian state was culpable’ she said

She added: 'It is Russia that is in flagrant breach of international law and Chemical Weapons Convention'

She added: ‘It is Russia that is in flagrant breach of international law and Chemical Weapons Convention’

Addressing the audience at the Conservative Party Spring Forum, Theresa May said: ‘Today our ambassador in Moscow was informed by the Russian government of the action they are taking in response.

‘In light of their previous behaviour we anticipated a response of this kind and we will consider our next steps in the coming days alongside our allies and partners.

‘But Russia’s response doesn’t change the facts of the matter – the attempted assassination of two people on British soil for which there is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian state was culpable.

‘It is Russia that is in flagrant breach of international law and Chemical Weapons Convention.

‘I repeat today that we have no disagreement with the Russian people. Many Russians have made this country their home and those who abide our laws and make a contribution to our society will always be welcome.

‘But we will never tolerate a threat to the life of British citizens and others on British soil from the Russian government.’

British ambassador to Russia Laurie Bristow was summoned for a meeting with the Russian Foreign Ministry early on Saturday morning (above: leaving the Russian Foreign Ministry)

British ambassador to Russia Laurie Bristow was summoned for a meeting with the Russian Foreign Ministry early on Saturday morning (above: leaving the Russian Foreign Ministry)

He was told that Russia will expel 23 British diplomats as tensions escalate during the spy poisoning stand-off (above: leaving the Russian Foreign Ministry)

He was told that Russia will expel 23 British diplomats as tensions escalate during the spy poisoning stand-off (above: leaving the Russian Foreign Ministry)

Mr Bristow said the UK would 'always do what is necessary to defend ourselves, our allies and our values against an attack of this sort' (above: leaving the Russian Foreign Ministry)

Mr Bristow said the UK would ‘always do what is necessary to defend ourselves, our allies and our values against an attack of this sort’ (above: leaving the Russian Foreign Ministry)

She continued: ‘We can be reassured by the strong support we have received from our friends and allies around the world.

‘From the United States, Nato and the European Union. From our UN and Commonwealth partners. I’m grateful too for the strong support I’ve received from the first minsters of Scotland and Wales.

‘And in the House of Commons this week we saw a consensus as member after member across all parties stood up to condemn Russia’s actions and to support the position of Her Majesty’s Government.

‘Because this act of Russian aggression is the very antithesis of the liberal and democratic values that define the United Kingdom – the rule of law, freedom of speech, the toleration of dissenting and minority views, a free press, fair and democratic elections, a thriving civil society.

‘These are the foundation stones of human freedom. They don’t come about by accident and they’re certainly not the default setting for any society.

‘They take years of patient work to build up, they face constant threats and they must always be defined. They are the values which unite us as a country.’

Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were found unconscious on a bench outside a shopping centre in Salisbury on March 4

Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were found unconscious on a bench outside a shopping centre in Salisbury on March 4

They had dined together in a Zizzi restaurant (pictured cordoned off above) before collapsing 

They had dined together in a Zizzi restaurant (pictured cordoned off above) before collapsing 

After leaving the Foreign Ministry in Moscow today, Mr Bristow said: ‘Russia today has informed me of steps that Russia will be taking.’

He said the UK would ‘always do what is necessary to defend ourselves, our allies and our values against an attack of this sort’.

British Foreign Office statement 

‘Our ambassador in Moscow has just been informed by the Russian government that they will expel 23 diplomats, close the British Consulate-General in St Petersburg and close the British Council in Moscow.

‘This follows the action we have taken, alongside other measures, to dismantle the Russian espionage network operating in the UK as a consequence of the attempted assassination of two people here in Britain using a nerve agent.

‘In light of Russia’s previous behaviour, we anticipated a response of this kind and the National Security Council will meet early next week to consider next steps. Our priority today is looking after our staff in Russia and assisting those that will return to the UK.

‘Russia’s response doesn’t change the facts of the matter – the attempted assassination of two people on British soil, for which there is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian State was culpable. It is Russia that is in flagrant breach of international law and the Chemical Weapons Convention.

‘We have no disagreement with the people of Russia and we continue to believe it is not in our national interest to break off all dialogue between our countries but the onus remains on the Russian state to account for their actions and to comply with their international obligations.’

Mr Bristow met with Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov earlier this week and confirmed the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter was discussed. 

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Friday it was ‘overwhelmingly likely’ that Russian President Vladimir Putin directed the use of the nerve agent.

Speaking during a visit to the Battle of Britain Bunker museum in Uxbridge alongside the Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz, Mr Johnson said: ‘Our quarrel is with Putin’s Kremlin, and with his decision – and we think it overwhelmingly likely that it was his decision – to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the UK, on the streets of Europe, for the first time since the Second World War.’

Echoing Mr Johnson’s remarks, Mr Czaputowicz said: ‘We are sure that it is the Russian state which is involved in this attempt. It is certain.’

In a tit-for-tat war of words, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called Mr Johnson’s claims ‘shocking and unforgivable’.

The Foreign Secretary’s comments were also rebuked by Mr Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

He said: ‘Any reference or mentioning of our president is nothing else but shocking and unpardonable diplomatic misconduct.’

Russia’s ambassador to London, Alexander Yakovenko, suggested the Government was using the incident to divert attention from Brexit.

Mr Yakovenko said that Britain had put its weight behind an ‘anti-Russian campaign’ as it tried to establish a new place for itself within Western society after EU withdrawal.

Speaking to the Russian state-funded RT television network, the ambassador denounced Britain’s decision to expel 23 diplomats as ‘unacceptable and unjustified’.

Former UK ambassador to Russia Sir Roderic Lyne told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I don’t think it would be sensible to get dragged down into a mud-wrestling battle with a gorilla.

‘We shouldn’t put ourselves on the same level as the aggressor. 

‘We shouldn’t allow Russia to turn this into a bilateral battle and have the Kremlin play it into the narrative of a hostile West, a hostile Britain out to attack Russia.’

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Friday it was 'overwhelmingly likely' that Russian President Vladimir Putin (above) directed the use of the nerve agent

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Friday it was ‘overwhelmingly likely’ that Russian President Vladimir Putin (above) directed the use of the nerve agent

Statement from Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs

‘On March 17, Ambassador of Great Britain to Russia Laurie Bristow was summoned to the Foreign Ministry, where he was handed a note stating that in response to the provocative actions of the British side and groundless accusations against the Russian Federation with regard to the incident in Salisbury, UK on March 4, 2018, the Russian side has taken the following decisions in response.

‘Twenty-three diplomatic staff of the UK Embassy in Moscow are declared persona non grata and are to be expelled from Russia within a week.

‘Taking into account the disparity in the number of the two countries’ consular missions, the Russian Federation recalls its agreement on the opening and operation of the Consulate General of the United Kingdom in St Petersburg.

‘Respective procedures will be followed in accordance with international legal practice.

‘Due to the unregulated status of the British Council in the Russian Federation, its activities are terminated.

‘The British side is warned that in case of further unfriendly actions against Russia, the Russian side reserves the right to take further retaliatory measures.’ 

Russia has opened its own criminal investigation into the attempted murder of Yulia, a Russian citizen, and also Nikolai Glushkov, a Russian exile Scotland Yard said died from ‘compression to the neck’ at his home in New Malden, south-west London.

British police are not linking his case with the Salisbury attack.

Counter-terrorism police have renewed their appeal for sightings of Mr Skripal’s burgundy BMW 320D saloon car, registration HD09 WAO, in Salisbury on the morning of March 4.

Statement from British Council 

‘We can now confirm the reports today that the British Council in Russia has been told to cease operations.

‘We are profoundly disappointed at this development. 

‘It is our view that when political or diplomatic relations become difficult, cultural relations and educational opportunities are vital to maintain on-going dialogue between people and institutions.

‘We remain committed to the development of long-term people-to-people links with Russia as we do in over 100 other countries.’ 

Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said: ‘We are learning more about Sergei and Yulia’s movements but we need to be clearer around their exact movements on the morning of the incident.’

NHS England said Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, the police officer exposed to the substance while helping the Skripals, is no longer in a critical condition. 

On Saturday the Russian Foreign Ministry tweeted an RT interview with Alexander Shulgin, Russia’s permanent representative to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), in which he suggested British authorities were ‘afraid’.

He said: ‘My guess is actually our British friends and partners are afraid – they are afraid that our experts may analyse these samples and they may see some dirty tricks there or something.

‘Our British partners don’t want that to happen.

‘If they don’t produce any evidence we will regard that as they have nothing to show and they will be held accountable for slander.’

Mr Shulgin added: ‘For sure they will not be able to tell where the substance came from – this will require dialogue between Russia and the UK.’

Moscow has also claimed Theresa May is too scared to ban Vladimir Putin’s propaganda channel RT.

The Russian ambassador in London Alexander Yakovenko said: ‘British officialdom apparently doesn’t like the contents of what RT says.

‘If memory serves me right, RT occupies the second position in popularity rankings after the BBC.

‘Quite naturally, this is an irritating factor, as the channel presents a different viewpoint.’

British ambassador to Moscow collected marching orders in 11 MINUTES

Laurie Bristow had barely crossed the threshold of Russia's Foreign Ministry on Saturday when he was given his marching orders by Moscow (above: making his exit)

Laurie Bristow had barely crossed the threshold of Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Saturday when he was given his marching orders by Moscow (above: making his exit)

It took Russia just 11 minutes to inform the British ambassador they would match Theresa’s May’s expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats.

Laurie Bristow had barely crossed the threshold of Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Saturday when he was given his marching orders by Moscow.

Frosty relations between the two countries turned to ice as the British Council in the Russian capital, which promotes British culture, was shut down.

It was also confirmed the British Consulate in Vladimir Putin’s hometown of St Petersburg would not be reopened.

Russia’s decision to expel diplomats came after the Prime Minister expelled 23 Russian diplomats from the UK who she said were ‘undeclared intelligence officers’ earlier this week.

Moscow had failed to respond to a deadline set by May to explain how the nerve agent that poisoned former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia found its way into Britain.

The pair were found unconscious on a bench outside a shopping centre in Salisbury on March 4.

They were poisoned by a deadly nerve agent called Novichok and remain critically ill in hospital.

Moscow has said the British diplomats must leave within a week – the same deadline given to Russian diplomats by Theresa May.

Conservative Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Commons Foreign Affairs select committee, said there should be a crackdown on corrupt Russian money in London, including assessment of political donations.

‘That does mean following it through and, yes, that does even mean to political parties,’ he told Today.

‘I think we should be absolutely clear that there are honest and decent and law-abiding Russian business people who have become British citizens who are in the UK and who have a right to play a part in British political life as every other British citizen does.

‘But then there are others and those others have no right to play a part in British political life and they have no right to use proxies to funnel money through to political parties.’

Mr Tugendhat said UK organisations offering financial and legal services to Russian oligarchs should think ‘very hard about the moral decisions they are making and the money they are taking’.

He said they should ‘look very hard’ at whether they were enabling money laundering ‘and very often murder as well’.

Russia’s ambassador to the UK has thanked staff who have been expelled from the UK in a reception at his residence.

An Embassy statement said: ‘On 16 March 2018 Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko hosted a reception in honour of the diplomats forced to leave the UK by the hostile decision of the British Government, attended by Embassy’s staff, family members and their friends.

‘Ambassador expressed gratitude to his colleagues for their contribution to the work of the Embassy and noted that for those who are returning to Russia one period in their career is ending and another one is starting. It is now up to them to choose the way forward and future preferences.

‘The world is much bigger than the United Kingdom. Your knowledge and experience gained at the Embassy will always be valued in the Russian diplomatic service.’

Theresa May: ‘When I was diagnosed with diabetes, the NHS was there for me’

During her speech at the Conservative Party Spring Forum, Theresa May revealed that she had Type 1 diabetes while serving as Home Secretary and injects herself with insulin up to five times a day.

‘When I was diagnosed with diabetes, the NHS was there for me,’ she said.

‘Skilled and compassionate, helping me every step of the way to manage my condition and live a normal life.

‘I rely on the NHS every day and I am eternally grateful to them.’

The Prime Minister admitted that some people question the Conservative Party’s ‘motives’ on health and schools but insisted Tories care ‘deeply’ about the state sector.

Public doubts about the party’s commitment to public services are ‘unfair’ but they are a political fact ‘which we must face up to’, she said. 

But the premier told the Tory party it ‘must mount a determined effort’ to ‘win and keep’ the public’s trust in its management of public services. 

She told the audience: ‘Some people question our motives. They wonder whether we care enough about our NHS and schools, whether we truly respect the people who work in them and understand that people rely on them.

‘Now, I know what our answer would be. Everyone in this Party cares deeply about our public services. We use them. We rely on them. Many of us work in them.’

She added: ‘It fell to Labour to create the NHS 70 years ago this summer, and it is rightly their proudest achievement.

‘But Conservatives backed its key principles then, and have supported them ever since.’ 

Conservative health minister Henry Willink published the first blueprint for a universal, free, health service, she told the forum. 

Mrs May said the Conservative Party created the modern police force, county councils and universal schooling.

She had a varied education that crossed the state and private school sectors. 

The grammar school she won a place at was turned into a comprehensive while she was still a pupil.

Mrs May went on to read geography at St Hugh’s College, Oxford University.

She said ‘when Brexit is done’ she wanted the Conservatives to lead the country ‘into the next decade and beyond’.

The Prime Minister attacked Jeremy Corbyn for failing to ‘stick to his promises’ on student finance and claimed Labour is setting out to ‘mislead people’.



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