When MI5 Met Zatuliveter is a story of sexist stereotypes | Natalia Antonova

Ekaterina Zatuliveter has been ruled to not be a spy after all – and young Russian women with international career ambitions breathed easier.

Well, sort of. Any young Russian woman who’s worldly enough knows that she will most likely fight ridiculous stereotypes while abroad. If she escapes the simplistic “slut from the wrong side of the iron curtain” label, she may still be branded a conniving Mata Hari-type.

Zatuliveter, who had an affair with the Liberal Democrat MP Mike Hancock, a man 40 years her senior, has been crucified by the press and faced deportation from Britain after having been accused of spying for Russian foreign intelligence. The case against her, however, had more to do with her personal life than any evidence of actual spying.

Zatuliveter is young, and has had affairs with several powerful men. The MI5 were perhaps right to investigate her – but why take it all the way to court?

A witness testifying for MI5 claimed that Zatuliveter’s decision to attend a series of plays that centre on Russia and Britain’s role in Afghanistan was evidence that Zatuliveter is a spy, for example. And I suppose that my decision to write a play about a zombie infestation in Moscow is evidence that I’m part of a Dr Evil-run cabal whose goal is to bring about a global zombie apocalypse. It only stands to reason.

The MI5 sprang into action over Zatuliveter two months after a number of people accused of spying for Russia, the glamorous Anna Chapman among them, were expelled from the US – and it seems that British security services may have “caught” Zatuliveter as a knee-jerk reaction to the fact that Chapman, who had British citizenship, was dominating the headlines.

In fact, Zatuliveter’s only crime is being overly ambitious – if she’d been trafficked to Britain, she would have received plenty of sympathy. As it stands, the uppity Russian woman was clearly getting ahead of herself.

Western colleagues of mine have been sceptical that there is anything “normal” about Zatuliveter’s relationship with Mike Hancock – referring to the fact that younger women pairing up with powerful, older men is seen as strange in a country such as Britain, as opposed to in Russia. Yet evidence of “weirdness” does not a spy make.

Moral panic over exotic “other” women endangering society is nothing new, and it was certainly not invented by British officials – but it’s dismaying to see it dominate headlines in Britain when strained relations between Britain and Russia have been on the mend. Improved relations are, perhaps, another reason why Zatuliveter was suddenly branded a full-fledged spy – not everyone in Britain welcomes even a cautionary friendship with Russia.

For its part, the Russian press is largely too busy covering the upcoming 4 December Duma elections and the global economic crisis to make anything dramatic of Zatuliveter’s case. Clicking on most Russian news sites, one notices that Zatuliveter has barely registered – aside from the usual dry reports of how Russia’s foreign ministry is “satisfied” by the ruling in her case. And perhaps it is the instincts of Russian journalists that are correct here.

The story of When the MI5 Met Zatuliveter is a case of much ado about nothing, unless new compelling evidence suddenly springs to light. Which it probably won’t. As far as artforms go, it may make for a slightly-more-exciting-than-usual romance novel that ought to include a moralising chapter on the dangers of sexist stereotypes, as opposed to a thrilling tale of international espionage.

Leave a comment