UK may expel Russian diplomats

The bizarre murder of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko continues to poison relations between Moscow and London, reports Fred Weir.
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Updated on Jul 12, 2007 11:36 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByFred Weir, Moscow

The Fallout from last year’s bizarre murder of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko continues to poison relations between Moscow and London, with Britain now hinting that it may expel Russian diplomats over the dispute.

The threat came in a statement from British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who said on Wednesday that Britain was "very disappointed" with Russia's refusal to extradite the main suspect in the murder, Andrei Lugovoi, and added that London would "deal with" Moscow's uncooperative stance "with the seriousness which it deserves."

Experts say that sounds like a veiled threat to expel a number of Russian embassy personnel or make some other harsh political gestures.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said that Moscow is "surprised at the British reaction. . . especially considering the fact that our position is in complete compliance with Russian law."

Litvinenko was killed last November with a massive dose of the exotic nuclear substance Polonium-210, which is produced mainly in Russia for commercial purposes.

After a lengthy investigation, British police concluded that the poisoning took place during a downtown London meeting between the exiled Kremlin critic Litvinenko and two former KGB men from Moscow, Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun.

In May, Britain officially charged Lugovoi with the murder and asked Russia to extradite him. Moscow has refused, saying the Russian Constitution forbids extradition of the country's citizens.

Britain has continued to insist that Russia turn Lugovoi over for trial, and recently rebuffed a suggestion by President Vladimir Putin that Lugovoi might be tried in Moscow instead.

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