A senior Russian diplomat said Tuesday that Britain's decision to expel four Russian diplomats over Moscow's refusal to extradite a suspect in a high profile murder case would complicate bilateral cooperation in security issues. Exiled Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky has claimed UK intelligence officers thwarted a plot to kill him.
The UK decided to expel four Russian diplomats and suspend visa facilitation talks with Moscow after Russia refused to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, the UK's key suspect in the Alexander Litvinenko murder case, citing Russia's Constitution that forbids the extradition of Russian nationals. “It is obvious that the line London is pursuing will complicate or make impossible cooperation between law enforcement bodies in issues relating to the safety of millions of British and Russian citizens,” said Alexander Grushko, a deputy foreign minister. He said Russia's response would be appropriate and targeted, but that it would not affect ordinary people or businessmen. He did not specified the measures, adding that the British Embassy in Russia would have lost 80 diplomats if Moscow had followed London's example.
According to the latest information, the British Foreign Office said that any possible retaliatory measures taken by Russia would be unjustified. Russian Ambassador to the UK Yury Fedotov said London had already fixed a deadline for the expulsion of four Russian diplomats. “We need time for a response,” Fedotov said, without specifying what retaliatory measures Russia could take. “We are serious people.” Grushko said that although Russia had asked Britain to extradite two of its own suspects, fugitive tycoon Boris Berezovsky and Chechen emissary Akhmed Zakayev, “none has yet been extradited.”
Berezovsky is accused of fraud and plotting a coup, while Zakayev is facing terrorism charges. Both have been granted British passports. At a news conference Tuesday, London Mayor Ken Livingstone said Britain could not expect Lugovoi's extradition after refusing to extradite Berezovsky, Zakayev and a number of other people. Russia condemned as “Russophobic” and “immoral” the planned expulsion, warning of an inevitable political backlash after UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced the move. Miliband said Monday that negotiations between Russia and the European Union over facilitating the visa regime would be suspended and visa restrictions introduced for Russian officials.
A spokesman for the British Embassy in Moscow clarified that the restrictions would not concern tourists or other ordinary citizens. Shares of Russian companies traded on the London Stock Exchange (LSE) fell between 0.3% and 4% on news of the UK measures against Russia. However, Britain's move has not affected the implementation of radiation security projects involving British companies in the Kola Peninsula in northern Russia, an economics spokesman for the Murmansk Region administration said. The source said Britain was involved in a number of projects to handle solid radioactive waste at Andreyeva Bay, where it had already invested over £7 million ($3.5 million).
Lugovoi, who met Litvinenko on the day he fell ill in London, told journalists that London's decision to expel Russian diplomats was a clear attempt to politicize the case. Litvinenko died in a London hospital in November 2006. British experts said they discovered the radioactive isotope Polonium-210 in his body, but have not yet published an official autopsy report. In a deathbed note, purportedly written by Litvinenko, who received British citizenship shortly before his death, he blamed President Vladimir Putin for his murder, an allegation the Kremlin dismissed.
Early last week, British prosecutors said they had received Russia's official refusal to extradite Lugovoi, which cited the Russian Constitution as saying Russian citizens could not be handed over to other countries, and proposed trying Lugovoi in Russia if Britain provides sufficient evidence. The latest reports said the Russian Foreign Ministry expected the Lugovoi case would not affect relations between Russia and the EU. “We hope common sense will prevail in the European Union and its members will refrain from new attempts to turn relations between Russia and the EU into a unique instrument for attaining unilateral political goals that have nothing to do with the true interests of the EU-Russia partnership,” Grushko said. In turn, Permanent Representative of Portugal to the EU Manuel Carvalho told RIA Novosti the European Union did not plan to strain relations with Russia over Moscow's refusal to extradite Lugovoi. “The European Union will try to do everything possible to ease tensions,” Carvalho said, adding that “the Lugovoi case is a legal issue.” (rian.ru)
Berezovsky told the BBC he had been warned about the alleged plot by sources in Russia and Scotland Yard. The police have declined to comment. The Sun said a Russian hitman had been hired to execute him at a London hotel. Berezovsky, 61, who lives in London, told BBC Radio Five Live he had received information about the alleged plot from sources in Russia. He said he was told that “someone who you know will come to Britain, he will try to connect to you, and when you meet him he will just kill you and will not try to hide”. The killer would then say the murder was “just because of business reasons”, Berezovsky said. “And in this case he will get 20 years, he will spend just 10 years in jail, he will be released, his family will be paid, he will be paid and so on,” he added.
Berezovsky's spokeswoman said he had been informed of the alleged plot three weeks ago and had been advised to leave the country for a week. The Sun claims Britain's security services, MI5 and MI6, intercepted intelligence about the plot and the hitman was seized within the last two weeks. Neither police or security officials have commented on the allegations. The Sun's political editor, George Pascoe-Watson, said it was not clear what had happened to the alleged hitman. “The security surrounding this case is so incredibly tight because of the diplomatic ramifications that we have not yet established where he's been taken, whether or not he's been charged, what the situation is,” he told BBC One's Breakfast.
Russia's ambassador to the UK, Yuri Fedotov, told BBC Radio 4's Today program there was “nothing that could confirm” the plot. Asked if the Russian government was involved, he said: “It is excluded.” (bbc.news.uk)