Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Britain warned to back down in Russian spy scandal

Britain has been told to butt out of the Litvinenko saga by London’s prime suspect Andrei Lugovoi.

Lugovoi sent a sharp warning that further calls for his extradition to stand trial for the 2006 murder over KGB agent turned UK citizen Alexander Litvinenko would only sour relations as British foreign secretary William Hague visited Russia.

“The more the British dig in their heels over this problem, the worse it will be for our relations with them,” Lugovoi told Interfax.

Russia has repeatedly denied Britain’s demands for extradition, “I am very happy that our state has the same position,” said Lugovoi.

Britain and Russia have both said that they would like to see bilateral relations emerge from the froideur it has sunk into. A new government in the UK looks to be an opportunity to do this, just as Barack Obama’s election in the US has opened a new door to dealings between Washington and Moscow.

“We want to see comprehensive developments in Russian - UK relations. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev specifically mentioned it in his message to David Cameron on May 12 [congratulating the newly-elected British Prime Minister],” foreign minister Sergey Lavrov informed.

The Litvinenko case, pressure on the British Council, and the Georgia-Russia war in 2008 have all caused tension. Russia in its turn has accused the UK of harbouring fugitive businessmen Boris Berezovsky and the ex-head of mobile phone retailer Evroset, Yevgeny Chichvarkin.

“Where we do differ, I shall say so plainly and clearly, while exploring the scope to address those differences. The door is open to better relations between Britain and Russia; we shall see if a door opens in return,” Hague said.

Lugovoi’s continued presence in Russia, and Russia’s continued refusal to hand him over look set to be obstacles that will not go away soon. In an interview published on Wednesday Hague told Novaya Gazeta that Lugovoi must stand trial.

“If the British have any kind of evidence that proves I am guilty, let them present it to the public,” Mr Lugovoi said. “Let them use the blab that the trial needs to be in London for domestic consumption.”

The Russian constitution does not permit the extradition of Russian citizens, although it does allow for evidence gathered by foreign police forces to be presented in a Russian court.

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