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(telegraph.co.uk) The go-ahead for the onion-domed cathedral – the first to be built in the French capital in more than a century – by the Eiffel Tower was considered a brilliant diplomatic coup in Russia as at least two other countries were vying for the prized property by the Seine.
But it sparked deep reservations at the Quai d’Orsay, France’s foreign ministry, and the DCRI, its MI6, because the building is a stone’s throw from a sensitive diplomatic compound.
As well as housing France’s supreme magistrates’ council, the Palais de l’Alma – Napoleon III’s former stables – contains the Elysée postal service and above all, the 16 private apartments of top presidential aides. Chief among these is Jean-David Levitte, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s top diplomatic adviser, who wields more power than the foreign minister, as well as his chief of staff.
French counterespionage was particularly concerned, according to Le Nouvel Observateur, the weekly magazine, as Vladimir Kozhin, the Russian in charge of trying to buy the 8,400 square metre (90,400 sq foot) plot, is a former KGB agent. Mr Kozhin is head of the hugely powerful Kremlin property department, which has 50,000 employees, an empire of hotels and manages all state property, including Russian churches overseas.
French intelligence concerns were compounded by the fact that it had detected a significant rise in Russian spy activity since the election of President Sarkozy in 2007, reaching heights not seen since the mid-1980s.