Litvinenko case: UK uncertain about the degree of co-operation with Russia

A representative from Russian Prosecutor’s office is meeting with British police in London to discuss their inquiry into the murder of former Russian security officer Aleksandr Litvinenko.

The meeting could pave the way for a group of Russian detectives to go to the UK to continue their inquiries.

Russia’s request to conduct part of its investigation on British soil has been stalled by Britain for weeks. So a representative of the Russian Prosecutor General’s office has arrived in London in an attempt to persuade Scotland Yard to speed up its decision.

“I can confirm that a representative of the Russian prosecutor is here in London – he is having a series of meetings in Scotland Yard and the purpose, as we understand, is to discuss the framework of possible interaction and co-operation between the office of prosecutor general and respective British services,” said Andrey Chupin, Chargé d’Affaires of Russia’s Embassy in the UK.

The current visit is seen as a preparatory one ahead of the possible arrival of a larger team of investigators – but so far they haven’t been allowed into Britain.

“When a request from the British side was addressed to the Russian authorities it was processed very expediently in a matter of days – less than a week. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with our request – we presented it to the British side on January 9, and so far there has been no reply. There is some provisional reply, and there is some movement at least now – the representative is here and we hope that he will reach understanding and agreement with his British colleagues, and the things will start moving, and our investigators will be able to come here to London,” commented Mr Chupin.

Still, he does not think the issue could be settled in the days to come:
“I would love to say yes – but unfortunately I don’t think we should put hopes on such a scenario. Scotland Yard says the meeting does not mean Russia will be granted permission to access witnesses in their investigation, adding that they are only ”discussing“ the status of the Russian investigators’ request.”

Meanwhile, senior reporter from The Guardian newspaper, Ian Cobain, says the main sticking point is the level of co-operation between Russian and British investigators:
“I’m sure they are ready to say that they want to co-operate – but what degree of co-operation they are actually ready to give – I don’t know. I think there is going to be quite a lot of negotiation about that before we see how much co-operation there will be. There is not much appetite in Scotland Yard for Russian investigators wandering around London asking questions.”

That includes a request to visit several sites in Britain and question those who Russians see as important witnesses to the case. One of them is exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky who had been granted political asylum in Britain.

“What’s happened with this investigation – is that the police have worked on the investigation in partnership with the prosecutors – and the police have now passed their file to the Crown Prosecution Service. They have the file, and they will not be taking any decisions soon – by that I mean not this week, not next week – it seems to me that the decision that has to be taken by the Crown Prosecution Service has been delayed by the Russian request to bring investigators to London,” said Ian Cobain.

Part of the problem could also be that the Prosecutor General’s letter setting out how to proceed with its investigation runs to 105 pages.

Last week the Russian ambassador expressed hope that the British side would show the same level of co-operation they received in Moscow at the end of last year. It looks like negotiations are back on track but the question remains how long they will take and what the result will be.