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Bloomberg: Brown Won’t Tolerate U.K. Murders, Justifies Russian Expulsions

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By Gonzalo Vina and Sebastian Alison
 
Gordon Brown with Nicolas Sarkozy July 20 (Bloomberg) — U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown justified expelling four Russian diplomats, saying he won’t tolerate “assassinations,” even as Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to defuse tensions.

The Russian government expelled four British diplomats yesterday, three days after the U.K. said it would send home four Russian envoys over Putin’s refusal to extradite ex-KGB agent Andrei Lugovoi, wanted in the U.K. for the murder of fellow former spy Alexander Litvinenko in London.

“We will not tolerate a situation where a British citizen is assassinated on British soil. That is why we had to take the action we did,” Brown said in Paris today after meeting French President Nicolas Sarkozy. “Our first duty is to protect our citizens and to prevent there being lawlessness in the streets of London.”

Litvinenko, a Kremlin critic who became a British citizen, died in November after being poisoned with the radioactive isotope polonium-210. He blamed Putin for the murder in a deathbed statement, an accusation the Kremlin called “absurd.” The expulsions mark the biggest rift since the countries expelled each other’s diplomats in 1996 after a spying dispute.

Putin earlier played down the dispute. “I think we will overcome this mini-crisis,” he said late yesterday, according to a transcript on the Kremlin Web site. “Russian-British relations will develop normally,” he said in Saransk, Mordovia, 500 kilometers (310 miles) east of Moscow. “On both the Russian side and the British side, we are interested in the development of those relations.”

Business in Russia

Still, the head of the main Russian business association warned that British companies in Russia may now encounter difficulties.

U.K. investors will find it “harder to work in Russia,” Alexander Shokhin, president of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, was quoted as saying today in an interview with the state news agency RIA-Novosti.

Shokhin said companies from Britain, the largest foreign investor in Russia, may face greater scrutiny from tax and regulatory authorities. They could also lose out in government tenders, he said, according to RIA.

U.K. companies including BP Plc, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, British American Tobacco Plc and Cadbury Schweppes Plc invested almost $15 billion in Russia in the six years through 2006.

Shell last year had to surrender control of the Sakhalin-2 oil and gas project to state gas monopoly OAO Gazprom following months of intensifying environmental checks. BP’s Russian joint venture in June ceded its controlling stake in the giant Kovykta gas field to Gazprom after authorities warned it would lose its operating license.

Russia Won’t Extradite

Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service asked Russia to extradite Lugovoi May 23. Russian law doesn’t allow extradition. It does allow citizens to be tried at home for crimes committed abroad.

British Ambassador Tony Brenton was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry yesterday and told the U.K. diplomats have 10 days to leave. The decision to expel them was “targeted, balanced and the minimum that was required,” ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said.

Russia also suspended the issuing of visas to U.K. officials and froze cooperation on counterterrorism after the British suspended contacts with Russia’s Federal Security Service, the main successor agency to the KGB.

U.K. Foreign Secretary David Miliband said yesterday Russia’s decision to expel the diplomats was “completely unjustified.”

Russia Blames Brown

His Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, blamed Brown’s administration for the dispute. “We understand that in any country where a new government takes over, it needs to find its own way,” Lavrov said yesterday in Lisbon in remarks posted today on the Foreign Ministry Web site.

“I am sure that the new government will find its feet and will work above all in the interests of the British people and, I hope, in the interests of Russian-U.K. relations,” he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice backed Britain, urging Russia to comply with its extradition request.

“A terrible crime has been committed on British soil,” Rice said yesterday. “Russia should honor the extradition request and cooperate fully.”

The European Union has also supported Britain, calling in a statement for “urgent and constructive cooperation” from Moscow. EU foreign ministers are expected to discuss the case at a meeting in Brussels July 23.

Lugovoi met Litvinenko at the Millennium Hotel in London’s Mayfair on Nov. 1 last year, the day he became ill. Lugovoi has repeatedly denied any involvement in the killing and has accused British secret services of being behind the death.

Ties between the countries have deteriorated since Britain refused to extradite Litvinenko’s patron, Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky, who was granted political asylum in 2003. Berezovsky earlier this year called for the overthrow of Putin.

To contact the reporters on this story: Gonzalo Vina in London at [email protected] ; Sebastian Alison in Moscow at [email protected] .

Last Updated: July 20, 2007 08:31 EDT

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