- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2007

LONDON Britain made a bold extradition request yesterday for a former KGB bodyguard in the poisoning death of an ex-Soviet spy turned Kremlin critic. Russia immediately refused the request, creating a standoff as Europe’s leading energy supplier and threatening to plunge relations to a post-Cold War low.

British prosecutors say they have enough evidence to charge Andrei Lugovoi with the murder of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko. Mr. Lugovoi met with Mr. Litvinenko at a London hotel the day his tea was poisoned with polonium-210, a radioactive substance.

Mr. Lugovoi, a former KGB bodyguard, denied involvement yesterday, saying the charges were politically motivated.

“I consider this decision to be political. I did not kill Litvinenko,” Mr. Lugovoi was quoted as saying by RIA-Novosti news agency.

The Russian ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Office. British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s office said it expected full cooperation.

“Murder is murder; this is a very serious case,” Mr. Blair’s spokesman said, speaking on the condition of anonymity in line with government policy. “The manner of the murder was also very serious because of the risks to public health.”

On his death- bed, the 43-year-old Mr. Litvinenko accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of being behind his kill-ing. He had also accused Russian authorities of being behind a deadly 1999 apartment blast and the killing of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

The Russian government has denied any involvement in Mr. Litvinenko’s death.

Although there is an extradition agreement between Russia and Britain, Russian law forbids the extradition of nationals.

The Russian prosecutor-general’s office said it would not hand over Mr. Lugovoi to British authorities. “Citizens of Russia cannot be turned over to foreign states,” spokeswoman Marina Gridneva told reporters.

A formal extradition request would be given to the Russians this week.

Russian prosecutors said Mr. Lugovoi could be tried in Russia, but Mr. Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, dismissed such a scenario.

“Everything that happened, happened here,” she said.

Radioactive traces were found at a dozen sites across London after Mr. Litvinenko’s death Nov. 23, including three hotels, a soccer stadium, two planes and an office building used by self-exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky.

Relations between Britain and Russia have long been sour.

Britain has refused to turn over Russian exiles, including Chechen opposition leader Akhmed Zakayev and Mr. Berezovsky once an influential Kremlin insider who fell out with Mr. Putin and fled to Britain in 2000 to avoid a money-laundering investigation.

Russia’s Federal Security Service accused four British diplomats of spying.

Britain’s ambassador to Russia, Anthony Brenton, has recently complained of being harassed by a pro-Kremlin Russian youth group called Nashi. He has been heckled on speaking engagements and trailed by group members carrying banners, shouting abuse and blocking his car.

Mr. Lugovoi joined the KGB in 1987 after serving in the Kremlin guard corps. During his time in the KGB, he provided security for Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, among others.

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