Britain's Foreign Office has haemorrhaged Russia experts since the break-up of the USSR, leaving it vulnerable in its dealings with the Kremlin at a time when relations between Britain and Moscow are at an historic low, MPs have warned.

The Commons' foreign affairs committee says the Foreign Office must invest in building up its team of Russian experts which had "disintegrated" since the end of the Cold War.

The committee heard how the FCO only had a six-strong team dealing with the entire post-Soviet space, minus the Baltic states, while the Ministry of Defence only had one person left to analyse Russian military capabilities.

Valentina Feklyunina, of Newcastle University, told the committee that a lack of expertise was "a significant mistake" and that Russia would be "very important for quite a long time, so it is extremely important to build this capacity", The Times reported.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Eyal, associate director of the Royal United Services Institute, said the lack of Russian knowledge showed itself in Britain's reaction to Russia's seizure of Crimea and that it would take at least a decade for the government to regain that expertise.

"There were only a handful of people with any historical knowledge of what Crimea meant to Russia and its emotional resonance We failed to see how grave it was, and then we overreacted," Eyal said.

The FCO said it had increased its number of Russian speakers by nearly a third over the last six years.

Committee chairman Crispin Blint said the FCO's Russia expertise was at "one 20th of the capability we had during the Cold War . . .This must be reversed," the Times reported.