Monday, July 16, 2007

UK to expel Russian diplomats over Lugovoi

UK to expel Russian diplomats over Lugovoi
By Daniel Dombey in London
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: July 16 2007 16:29 | Last updated: July 16 2007 16:29

The UK will expel four Russian diplomats and suspend negotiations with Moscow on making visas easier to obtain, David Miliband, British foreign secretary, announced on Monday.

The move, which comes in the wake of increasing strains in the relationship between Moscow and Washington, is a response to the Russian government’s refusal to extradite a former KGB spy to the UK.

Britain accuses Andrei Lugovoi of the murder in London last November of Alexander Litvinenko, a KGB spy turned British citizen. But Moscow says that it cannot extradite Mr Lugovoi because the extradition of Russian nationals is forbidden by the Russian constitution.

“The Russian authorities have given no indication of willingness to work with us” on the case, Mr Miliband told the House of Commons.

He said that the UK government considered Russia a “key international partner” on issues such as climate change, Kosovo, Iran and the Middle East peace process. But he added: “We need a relationship based on trust and mutual respect.”

Mr Miliband alleged that the responsibility for the crime was partly established by traces of polonium 210, the radioactive isotope used to kill Litvinenko, in a teapot from which the poisoned man drank at Mr Lugovoi’s initiative, as well as traces found on flights on which Mr Lugovoi travelled to and from the UK.

He indicated that, despite claims by Vladimir Putin, Russian president, that the UK had not provided a sufficiently substantive case, the Russian authorities had not requested any specific further information.

The UK government’s move was triggered by a formal refusal by the deputy Russian prosecutor general on July 6 to extradite Mr Lugovoi. Mr Miliband labelled this decision “extremely disappointing”, adding: “It suggests that the Russian government has failed to register either how seriously we take the case or the seriousness of the issues involved.”

The foreign secretary argued that doubts about the rule of law in Russia meant that even a British decision to accept the alternative of a trial in Russia of Mr Lugovoi could be open to legal challenge.

Mr Miliband said the four officials to be expelled from the Russian embassy were selected to send a signal to Moscow about the UK’s disquiet, and warned that Mr Lugovoi could be extradited to Britain if he travelled to a third country.

The UK would discuss the “need for further EU engagement” on the issue with other European Union member states.


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