Russia matches UK expulsions

Four British diplomats will be thrown out of Russia and counter-terrorism work with the UK suspended, in what Moscow calls a 'mirrored response' to Britain expelling four Russian diplomats. Russia's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin also announce

The diplomatic row started when Moscow refused to extradite Andrey Lugovoy, the man Britain accuses of killing former Russian security officer Aleksandr Litvinenko.

Despite the growing tension, Russian President Vladimir Putin described the row as a minor crisis and said it is something both countries can resolve.

I think Russian-British relations will develop normally. It is an interest of both countries that these relations keep developing. At the same time all our moves should be based on common sense and respect to lawful rights and interests of all parties.

Vladimir Putin, Russian President

“I think Russian-British relations will develop normally. It is an interest of both countries that these relations keep developing. At the same time all our moves should be based on common sense and respect to lawful rights and interests of all parties,” the Russian leader said.

At the meeting of the Middle East Quartet in Lisbon, Sergey Lavrov said, “In the Lugovoy case, we have not received any material explaining why the British drew such a conclusion. To remind you, Moscow has sent London 21 requests to extradite Russian citizens and none of them has been satisfied. In the notorious Berezovsky case, Russia sent five such requests and Britain said that the materials justifying the accusations were not sufficient. Every time they asked for more information, while in the Lugovoy case no materials have been provided to the Russian side whatsoever.”

“We understand that when in any country a new government comes to power, it seeks its own policy line, including, as in this case, with the European Union. We know that there are difficulties between the UK and the EU – there are some issues over the package of reforms under discussion, and not all of them suit London. So I see what is happening has much to do with the new government. I'm sure the British government will act in the interests of its people and for the benefit of Russian-British relations,” Mr Lavrov added.

On Friday, at a press conference in Paris British Prime Minister Gordon Brown showed no signs of backing down in the dispute with Russia.

“You know that we had to take a difficult decision in relation to the Litvinenko case and we will not tolerate a situation when a British citizen is assassinated on British soil. Our investigating authorities identified someone who we wished to arrest for the charge and we're prevented from doing so through the inability of the Russian authorities to extradite Mr Lugovoy to Britain,” Mr Brown stated. 

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown
UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband swiftly reacted to the announcement from Russia.

“We are disappointed that the Russian government have signalled no new co-operation in the case of the extradition of Mr Andrey Lugovoy for the alleged murder of Aleksandr Litvinenko. We obviously believe that the decision to expel four Embassy staff is completely unjustified,” Mr Miliband said.

And U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has also urged Russia to extradite Andrey Lugovoy, saying it is simply a matter of rule of law.

“It's very clear what needs to happen in the current situation. There was a terrible crime committed on British soil. That crime needs to be investigated and the propitiators brought to justice and punished. It's going to be very difficult to do that without the extradition of those who are requested by the British and without the full co-operation of Russia. To my mind it's not an issue of politics, it's an issue of rule of law,” the State Secretary stated.

During talks with Brown in Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy says he doesn't feel sorry for showing solidarity with Britain.

Concerning Russia, I would like to remind you of the solidarity that France has shown towards our British friends. It is a matter of principle to be supportive. I do believe in democratic solidarity and when this type of problem arises, we cannot act otherwise. I do not regret showing solidarity.

Nikolas Sarkozy, French President

Russia is asking the EU not to interfere in its dispute with the UK, although already the EU urged Russia to co-operate with Britain over the request for Andrey Loguvoy.

While the European Union and the United States urge Russia to co-operate with the UK on the case, political experts in Moscow are convinced the measures taken are the correct response.

“The British deprived themselves of any choice with their statements, and they somehow had to show their dissatisfaction. They chose quite a narrow way triggered by the polonium scandal and the Lugovoy case. The Russian side, in its turn, responded absolutely correctly. It all started with the UK's refusal to extradite two Russian men regarded in Russia as criminals – Berezovsky and Zakayev. After the British refused to extradite them, citing the decision of the courts, the Russian side began showing its discontent in various indirect ways. But the time has come to put an and to it,” said President of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, Sergey Karaganov, in an interview to Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily.

Russia Today's political commentator, Peter Lavelle, expressed his opinion on Mikhail Kamynin's announcement that Moscow will expel four British diplomats: “The British were certainly expecting this, there was nothing new. It is a part of the protocol that we see between the states on this. I was a little surprised that they have been waiting so long. The penny has dropped, and maybe we can start moving forward – let's get the worst over now and start moving away from the brink. But what might destroy the relations between the two countries is a legal issue, it is Russia's Constitution versus the British legal system. This is a terrible crime,we all would agree, but why destroy the relationship over this?”