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Russia Dismisses British Report On Killing Of Former Spy
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Russia Dismisses British Report On Killing Of Former Spy

Europe

Russia Dismisses British Report On Killing Of Former Spy

Russia Dismisses British Report On Killing Of Former Spy
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The Russian government has reacted angrily to the British inquiry into the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. Moscow says what should have been a criminal inquiry was politicized by the British government, and risked damaging relations between the two countries.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Well, now for Russian reaction to the report. We turn to NPR's Corey Flintoff in Moscow. And Corey, how has this been covered by Russian news media?

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Well, it hasn't been a top story on the state-run television channels, but it's getting some coverage as a kind of secondary story. You know, some of these reports are referring to the inquiry in Britain as the so-called public inquiry. And the main thing that they're focusing on is the possibility that this could trigger new sanctions from Great Britain.

SIEGEL: And what about Russian officials? How are they treating the news?

FLINTOFF: I have to say that their response has been a lot like other recent cases where the government's been accused of misconduct, you know, such as that inquiry that accused Russia of state-sponsored doping in track and field sports.

First of all, they dismissed the importance of the inquiry, and the main Kremlin spokesman did that just this morning even before the report was released. The spokesman said the Kremlin wasn't interested in the judge's report and that it wasn't on the government's agenda. And then secondly, they tried to discredit the inquiry. And the spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry did that at a press conference. She said the murder was a purely criminal case that was politicized, and she criticized the process. She said it wasn't transparent because some of the proceedings were closed to the public on the pretext, she said, that they involved state secrets.

But you know, it's worth noting here that a number of recent trials in Russia, you know, especially treason and spying cases, have been closed to the public as well. So it's not as if Russian justice isn't carried out in secret either.

SIEGEL: What about the men accused of the crime? Russia has refused to extradite them, but they're not in hiding. Any response from them?

FLINTOFF: Well, yes. In fact, one of them - Andrei Lugovoi - is a member of parliament now. He represents a far-right political party. He said today the charges against him were absurd. He repeated that the inquiry was politically motivated, and he added another standard response that Russian officials use when they're accused of something. He said the inquiry was an example of anti-Russian hysteria. So the effect is to take allegations that were specifically aimed at him and another suspect and imply that they're really targeting all Russians.

SIEGEL: And what about President Putin, who's accused of, at the very least, having knowledge of this murder and, according to the report, probably approving it? Any word from him?

FLINTOFF: No. He hasn't respond directly to the allegations yet. But it can probably be said that he expressed his support for Andrei Lugovoi last March because he gave him a government metal then for services to the Fatherland. And officially, the citation said that Lugovoi was being honored for his work in developing Russia's parliament. But of course, last March was when the British inquiry's report was originally scheduled to come out.

SIEGEL: Corey, you mentioned earlier that Russian news reports focused on the possibility that this might trigger new sanctions against Russia. Is the Russian media taking that seriously?

FLINTOFF: Yes. Russian media and Russian officials have always dismissed the effect of the existing sanctions - you know, the ones that were put in place after Russia seized Crimea and supported the separatist militias in Eastern Ukraine.

But at the same time, they've been working very hard and especially at the diplomatic level in Europe to get the sanctions lifted. And of course, that's particularly important to them right now when Russia's in the midst of this quite-severe financial crisis that was brought on by the drop in oil prices.

SIEGEL: OK. That's NPR's Corey Flintoff in Moscow. Thanks, Corey.

FLINTOFF: Thank you, Robert.

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