Britain's Ouster of Russians Angers Moscow

Russia has reacted angrily to the expulsion of four of its diplomats from Britain. Moscow says there will be an "adequate and appropriate" response to Monday's decision by the British government. The expulsions follow Russia's refusal to extradite a man the British authorities consider a key suspect in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned with radioactive polonium in London last November.

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Russia is warning that it will have an appropriate response to Britain's announcement yesterday that the U.K. will expel four Russian diplomats. The expulsions are the latest in a bitter diplomatic standoff between Britain and Russia over the poisoning of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko.

NPR's Gregory Feifer reports from Moscow.

GREGORY FEIFER: Britain touched off the latest diplomatic storm yesterday. It accused Russia of refusing to cooperate over requests to extradite the top suspect in the British investigation into Litvinenko's murder. Andrei Lugovoi was with Litvinenko the day he fell ill from the rare radioactive substance, polonium, last November. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told parliament, London is seriously disappointed by Moscow's attitude.

Mr. DAVID MILIBAND (Secretary of State, British Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs): The facts, Mr. Speaker, that a U.K. citizen has suffered horrifying and lingering death. His murder put hundreds of others, residents and visitors, at risk of radiation contamination.

FEIFER: Miliband said British police believe Lugovoi, a former security service officer, killed Litvinenko by poisoning his tea during a meeting in a London hotel. The Russians say their constitution forbids extraditing Russian citizens, but that a criminal case could take place in Russia. Miliband rejected the idea.

Mr. MILIBAND: The allegations against Mr. Lugovoi refer to a crime against the British citizen in London. The appropriate venue for the trial is therefore London.

FEIFER: Miliband said Britain would expel four Russian diplomats and review its relations with Moscow. Experts say the diplomats are probably intelligence officers. Russian politicians have reacted with scathing criticism. And Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said today Moscow's official response could affect vitally important cooperation on security matters.

Mr. ALEXANDER GRUSHKO (Deputy Minister, Russian Foreign Ministry): (Russian spoken)

FEIFER: Our reaction will be direct and adequate, he said. The British authorities will be informed about very shortly.

Yesterday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin accused the British authorities of politicizing the Litvinenko case in order to justify their own refusal to extradite two prominent Kremlin critics.

Mr. MIKHAIL KAMYNIN (Spokesman, Russian Foreign Ministry): (Russian spoken).

FEIFER: We believe the British position is immoral, he said. It will have more serious consequences for Russian-British relations as a whole.

Moscow is furious over Britain's sheltering of Russian dissident tycoon Boris Berezovsky and Chechen rebel spokesman Akhmed Zakayev. Both men were close to Litvinenko, who on his deathbed blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for ordering his murder, something the Kremlin has strongly denied. The man at the center of the current Russo-British standoff, Andrei Lugovoi, remains free in Russia, where he's countered the allegations against him with his own accusation that British intelligence was involved in Litvinenko's killing. In a television interview yesterday, Lugovoi again denied involvement in the murder.

Mr. ANDREI LUGOVOI (Former KGB operative): (Through translator) The British authorities' actions once again demonstrate that above all, the Litvinenko affair is a political matter.

FEIFER: The escalation of the Litvinenko crisis comes amid generally deteriorating relations between oil-rich Russia and the West. Britain says no retaliation by Moscow against the expulsion of its diplomats would be justified. But many commentators here believe the Kremlin is relishing this latest chance to demonstrate its new self-confidence on the world stage.

Gregory Feifer, NPR News, Moscow.

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