- The Washington Times - Monday, July 16, 2007

LONDON — Britain will expel four Russian diplomats over the Kremlin’s refusal to extradite the key suspect in the murder of a former KGB agent fatally poisoned in London, the foreign secretary said today.

David Miliband told parliament he had taken the steps because the Kremlin had failed to properly respond to the “horrifying and lingering” death of Alexander Litvinenko.

It was the first time since 1996 that Britain had used the sanction, which Russia vowed “will not go unanswered.”

“The Russian government has failed to register either how seriously we treat this case or the seriousness of the issues involved, despite lobbying at the highest level and clear explanations of our need for a satisfactory response,” Mr. Miliband told lawmakers in the House of Commons.

Moscow has refused to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, a Russian businessman and former KGB agent, to stand trial in London over the killing. Mr. Lugovoi has been named by British prosecutors as the chief suspect in the case.

Russia’s formal rejection was received a week ago by Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service, which in turn spurned a Russian offer to try Mr. Lugovoi in Russia.

“The heinous crime of murder does require justice,” Mr. Miliband said. “This response is proportional and it is clear at whom it is aimed.”

In Moscow, Mikhail Kamynin, a spokesman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, said “the provocative actions conceived by the British authorities will not go unanswered and cannot fail to produce the most serious consequences for Russian-British relations as a whole.”

Mr. Kamynin said the expulsions were “a well-staged action to politicize the Litvinenko case,” and claimed the British government was trying to justify its own refusal to extradite two prominent Kremlin opponents with asylum in Britain: tycoon Boris Berezovsky and Chechen separatist figure Akhmed Zakayev.

Britain’s Foreign Office declined to specify the rank or position of the four Russian diplomats to be expelled, who had yet to leave the country.

“We have chosen to expel four particular diplomats in order to send a clear and proportionate signal about the seriousness of this case,” Mr. Miliband said.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack would not comment directly on the British decision, but he said the U.S. has urged cooperation between the countries.

“We believe that it is important to bring closure to that terrible crime,” Mr. McCormack told reporters. “We believe that it is important, as a matter of justice, to see some cooperation between the U.K. and Russia.”

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