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13 Jul, 2007 11:27

Litvinenko case: Britain ‘disappointed’, Russia ‘surprised’

Britain says it is disappointed with Moscow's refusal to extradite Andrey Lugovoy – and looking to take further action. Meawhile, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has urged Britain not to politicize the murder investigation into the deat

He said it should be treated only as a criminal case, and that only relevant bodies should be dealing with it.

“I was surprised to learn that the British Foreign Office was now in charge of Lugovoy’s case. It always seemed to me, and the British side confirmed this, that this was a criminal case and it should be dealt with by the appropriate institutions. We don't want to regard it as a political case. The British side has received all the necessary explanations. Moscow has made its decision in accordance with the Russian constitution and Russia's commitments under the European Convention,” stated Sergey Lavrov.

The Russian Prosecutor's office has also responded to Britain's request for the extradition of Andrey Lugovoy.
The General Prosecutor’s office of the Russian Federation has been surprised by the by the number of statements by the British side regarding Russia’s stance on the extradition of its citizens. Under the Russian Constitution this is not allowed. The General Prosecutor’s office is also surprised by the desire of the British side to force Russia to violate its national laws. Since 2002 Russia has requested the extradition of 21 people who committed alleged crimes on Russian territory,” says the statement of General Prosecutor’s office.

Meantime, there are media reports that the UK may break off relations with Russia in some areas after Russia's refusal to extradite London's main suspect in the Litvinenko murder case.

Andrey Lugovoy is accused by Britain of allegedly causing the death of former Russian security services officer Aleksandr Litvinenko, who died in London last November from a fatal dose of radioactive polonium-210.

Downing Street condemned Russia’s refusal to extradite Lugovoy saying the decision is “extremely disappointing”.
But Moscow maintains it acts in accordance with law.

“I’d like to note that in the 1990s the Western world, including Great Britain, was actively calling for Russia to build a law-governed state and respect its legislation. We are surprised by London's position of trying to jeopardize any further development of our co-operation because of one issue, that of the extradition of one citizen,” stated Mikhail Kamynin, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Russia says it’s ready to look at the evidence and possibly try Lugovoy on Russian soil. While Britain insists the trial in Russia would never be fair and impartial, the main suspect argues that a trial in Britain would not be impartial either.

“I haven’t received any papers from the British side – no letter or notice. I think this situation has been carefully planned from the beginning. Taking this into account I won`t go there. Public opinion is forming against me,” explains Andrey Lugovoy.
With the case hitting yet another wall – now there is even talk of officially re-considering areas in which Britain and Russia work together. According to unconfirmed reports, the Foreign Office will present a report to Parliament next week on Russia’s decision. That includes listing the options available: one of them is believed to be a potential withdrawal of co-operation in joint projects.

Some analysts say the death of Aleksandr Litvinenko poisoned Anglo-Russian relations to their worst since the Cold War. Others suppose the deterioration started long before that – when Britain granted asylum to two men wanted by Russia, Boris Berezovsky and Akhmed Zakayev.
In 1996 relations between Russia and Britain took another turn for the worse when Moscow accused four diplomats of espionage and expelled them. London followed suit with the expulsion of several Russian diplomats from its ground.
Disagreements between the two countries have been apparent on an international level – be it the future of Kosovo, or how to handle the Iranian nuclear issue.

So it looks like the Foreign Office is bracing itself to officially change the foreign policy strategy towards Russia. But many argue that one deadlocked case should not deadlock the whole relationship between the two countries. Thus, Conservative MP Mark Pritchard says he’d rather see Moscow and London getting closer together rather than further apart. Still, the pressure seems to be building up.

“At the moment we have a rhetorical wall that seems to be being built week by week – brick by brick. I’d like that wall to come down brick by brick. And very quickly indeed in order that our relationship with Russia is safeguarded, is strengthened – so that we don’t end up in the situation where it’s ratcheted up to a point where mistrust is built up and we loose co-operation in so many areas where we need to co-operate in,” believes Mark Pritchard.

The Russians, meanwhile, hope that common sense will prevail.

“If a country behaves according to its constitution and fulfils its obligations, it would be strange for another country to feel offended by that. We should also ask why people considered criminals by Russian prosecutors are not extradited from Great Britain. British officials refer to their legislation. I think, it won't affect Russia-British relations,” Russia’s Federation Council Speaker Sergey Mironov said in this respect.

Aleksandr Konovalov, Head of the Institute for Strategic Assessment suggests that escalation of diplomatic tension would be counter-productive.

“There are speculations that this could have a devastating effect on bilateral relations; that some diplomats may be expelled or relations in certain areas may be limited. I don’t think this is a productive way to follow. We had several samples in our history when our diplomats were expelled, and shortly we had to recover the situation and restore the damage,” he said.

And Andrey Kortunov, Vice President of Eurasia Foundation, commented that Russia and Britain have too many common interests to quarrel over the case of Mr Lugovoy.

“I hope that the British side will not demand Russians to break their constitution just to resolve a very specific case of Mr Lugovoy. We have a lot of business interactions with the United Kingdom, and it seems that so far this political dimension did not have a direct impact on British investments in Russia, or on contacts between the two countries in other fields,” Mr Kortunov believes.

So now it is the turn of the British officials to announce what their next step will be.