Spy probe sours UK ties, says Russia

Russia’s foreign minister on Friday accused the UK of politicising the investigation into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB officer, and said it was damaging UK-Russian relations.

Sergei Lavrov’s comments came a day after Andrei Lugovoi, whom the UK has charged with killing Litvinenko, denied responsibility and claimed to have evidence British intelligence was involved in the killing.

“We are seeing attempts from the British side to use the criminal case, which requires a professional investigation, to create some sort of political campaign,” Mr Lavrov said.

But a decision that could have soured relations between Russia and the UK further – removal of TNK-BP’s licence for the massive Kovykta gas field in Siberia because of alleged violations – failed to materialise on Friday after a regulator postponed talks on the topic for up to two weeks.

The British government stood by its position that Mr Lugovoi should stand trial in the UK for Litvinenko’s murder. A Foreign Office statement said: “We have no desire to aggravate diplomatic relations. We have consistently said that the murder of Mr Litvinenko is a very serious criminal matter which put hundreds of British citizens and visitors at risk. It has been dealt with by relevant [British] organs in the UK, the Metropolitan Police and the Crown Prosecution Service.”

Britain’s ambassador in Moscow handed a formal request to extradite Mr Lugovoi to Russia’s foreign affairs ministry this week, and the Foreign Office said it awaited a “formal and constructive response”.

The FT has learnt that the UK is in contact with other European states on the case as it prepares to take a more forceful and co-ordinated diplomatic stand on the issue if Russia officially refuses the extradition request.

Some UK government officials view Mr Lugovoi’s accusations against MI6 on Thursday as having had at least tacit Kremlin endorsement. Mr Lugovoi also pointed the finger at Boris Berezovsky, the oligarch whose asylum in the UK is an irritant to Moscow.

The opposition coalition Other Russia this week denied receiving money from Mr Berezovsky, despite a claim from him to be providing funds. Asked twice by the FT at a tape-recorded London event whether he was funding the group, the exiled tycoon replied: “Yes I am funding them.”

He has since attempted to distance himself by claiming he misunderstood the question and intended to refer to opposition groups in general. Asked again on Friday if he was funding Other Russia, Mr Berezovsky replied: “No comment.”

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