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The Times: Spy murder row poisons relations with Russia

May 23, 2007
Richard Beeston, Diplomatic Editor

Britain’s relations with Russia were at their lowest point since the Cold War after the authorities in Moscow refused yesterday to cooperate with an extradition request for the man accused of murdering Alexander Litvinenko.

Trade relations with Russia are expected to worsen significantly after an announcement by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) that it believed there was enough evidence to charge Andrei Lugovoy with the “deliberate poisoning” of Mr Litvinenko. Britain wants him to stand trial here before a judge and jury, but Moscow made it clear that this was out of the question.

The stand-off comes as Russia pursues a more aggressive foreign policy and one that is increasingly hostile to the West. Writing in The Timestoday, Tony Blair argues that Britain has to build new nuclear power stations partly because Russia has become so unreliable as a partner. “We are now faced with countries, like Russia, who are prepared to use their energy resources as an instrument of policy,” the Prime Minister says.

As the CPS made its announcement Yuri Fedotov, the Russian Ambassador, was summoned to meet Peter Ricketts, the Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, who urged Russia to comply with the legal request. A spokesman for the Prime Minister said: “There is no doubt at all as to the seriousness with which we regard this case. Murder is murder.”

The murder of Alexander Litvinenko horrified the world — and spurred Martin Sixsmith into a dangerous hunt for the killers

Mr Litvinenko, a former officer in the KGB and its successor, the FSB, was killed with a fatal dose of the radioactive substance polonium-210 last November. The Kremlin is already angry with Britain for granting asylum to many Russian dissidents. It could hit back against the latest move, which implies it is sheltering a murderer connected to Russia’s security services.

“We obviously have political and economic connections with Russia and Russia is clearly playing an important role in international affairs,” the Downing Street spokesman added. “However, that does not in any way obviate the need for international law to be respected and we will not in any way shy away from trying to ensure that in a case such as this.”

One immediate victim of the hostile climate could be BP’s joint venture to exploit a gas field in eastern Siberia. The Russian authorities are expected soon to revoke BP’s licence in favour of a state-controlled company. Similar action was taken last year against a Shell joint venture in Sakhalin.

Britain and Russia have signed the Council of Europe’s Convention on Extradition, but it has had little effect. Britain had its one previous extradition request turned down by Moscow. Russia has had 17 extradition requests refused by Britain, including those for the oligarch Boris Berezovsky, Mr Putin’s main critic, and Akhmed Zakayev, a Chechen separatist accused of terrorism.

In recent months President Putin has clashed with the West on a range of issues, including US plans for an antimissile defence system and EU criticism of Moscow’s human rights record. Mr Blair and Mr Putin are expected to discuss energy issues at a G8 summit in Germany next month.

Mr Lugovoy insisted that the murder charges were politically motivated. “I did not kill Litvinenko, have nothing to do with his death and can prove my distrust of the so-called evidence collected by Britain’s justice system,” he said.

Mr Lugovoy is suspected of poisoning Mr Litvinenko when the two met in London last November. Mr Litvinenko, an outspoken critic of Mr Putin, died in agony 22 days later. On his deathbed he blamed the Kremlin for his murder.

The British authorities said that they expected Mr Lugovoy to be arrested and extradited. “This was a very serious crime,” Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, said. “We have ordered the Russian Ambassador to convey that information to the Russian authorities.”

Mr Litvinenko’s widow Marina vowed to continue campaigning until her husband’s killer had been brought to justice, and urged the ambassador to help the British authorities.

“It is important to me that my husband did not die in vain. It is also important for British people to see that those who carried out this attack on British soil are brought to justice and to see that they are protected from what people see as state terrorism,” she said. “I will not rest until I know that justice has been done.”

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1826835.ece

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