Escalating from murder mystery into international cause celebre,
the scandal surrounding ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko's fatal
poisoning exploded this week into a full cold war-style diplomatic
crisis between Russia and Britain, overshadowing all other aspects
of an increasingly troubled relationship.
British Foreign Secretary David Milliband said Monday that four
Russian diplomats will be expelled as a demonstration of how
seriously London takes the Kremlin's refusal to hand over Andrei
Lugovoi, the chief suspect in Mr. Litvinenko's death last November,
to stand trial in Britain.
"Given the importance of this issue and Russia's failure to
cooperate to find a solution, we need an appropriate response," Mr.
Milliband said. "Our aims are clear: First, to advance our judicial
process; second to bring home to the Russian government the
consequences of their failure to cooperate; and third, to emphasize
our commitment to promoting the safety of British citizens and
On Tuesday, Russia denounced Britain's move as "an attempt to
punish us for adhering to our own Constitution," which forbids
extraditions, and said it put the two countries on a direct path to
confrontation. Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Grushko promised
a carefully targeted and proportionate response "in the near
future," which experts speculate could extend to British-linked
businesses and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Russia.
"A matter that was originally in the juridical sphere is now
thoroughly politicized," says Alexei Gromyko, head of the Center for
British Studies, an official Moscow think tank. "There is a danger
that, due to these events, we may see some spread of negative
emotions toward [Britain] within Russia."
Fresh allegations against Lugovoi
On Monday, Milliband added fresh details of the allegations
against Mr. Lugovoi, saying that British police have strong evidence
that Lugovoi sprayed a deadly dose of polonium-210 into Litvinenko's
tea during a Nov. 1 meeting in the Pine Bar, in downtown London. In
addition, British ambassador Anthony Brenton warned that Britain may
restrict issuance of visas to Russian officials.
Russia, which portrays itself as the victim of British
machinations, sees the hand of Britain's MI6 intelligence agency and
exiled anti-Kremlin tycoon Boris Berezovsky behind London's growing
In a May press conference, which many experts believe may have
been scripted by Russia's FSB security service, Lugovoi protested
his innocence and claimed that Litvinenko and Litvinenko's main
sponsor, Mr. Berezovsky, were both agents with Britain's MI6
intelligence squad, working actively against Russia. Last month the
FBS opened an official probe into the alleged subversive activities
of MI6 and publicly introduced a Russian citizen, Vyachslav Zharko,
who told Russian media that he'd turned himself into the FSB after
being "recruited" by British spies sent by Berezovsky. …