Britain considering expulsion of Russian diplomats

Other News Materials 12 July 2007 13:12 (UTC +04:00)

( AFP ) - Britain is considering expelling Russian diplomats from London over Russia's refusal to extradite a man suspected of killing Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in London last year, British newspapers said on Thursday.

Relations between the two countries have hit a post-Cold War low in recent months, and were hurt further earlier this year when British prosecutors alleged that Andrei Lugovoi used a rare radioactive isotope to poison Litvinenko, and requested Lugovoi's extradition to Britain to face trial.

Russia refused to extradite Lugovoi, with Foreign Secretary David Miliband responding that London would "deal with" any refusal to extradite Lugovoi "with the seriousness which it deserves."

The Guardian, without citing its sources, said that other options on the table were the withdrawal of cooperation in a variety of issues, such as trade, counter-terrorism and education.

An unidentified government insider was quoted by the Financial Times as saying that the British government "is looking at a range of options."

"There is a process going on at the moment in which those options are being examined. But you can expect something to be announced to parliament very soon," the source told the business daily.

The Daily Telegraph, meanwhile, quoted a former diplomat familiar with Russia as saying that it was "entirely likely" that Britain could expel a "handful" of middle- and lower-ranking diplomats.

A spokeswoman for the foreign ministry told AFP that the government was "considering our response to what the Russians have said" but added that "no decisions have been taken."

Authorities in Moscow have proposed the possibility of launching an inquiry into Lugovoi in Russia, but British prosecutors believe that would not meet standards of impartiality and fairness.

The newspapers said that officials were bracing themselves for a reprisal from Russia that could include the expulsion of British diplomats from Moscow.

Litvinenko, a former Russian secret agent, had received political asylum and then citizenship in Britain. He died last November.

Lugovoi, a Moscow businessman, threw fuel on the fire of the extradition struggle with a dramatic press conference last month alleging that the British secret services were involved in the murder of Litvinenko.