Russia to respond to U.K. expulsions in 'targeted' manner

Posted in Russia | 18-Jul-07 | Author: Andrew E. Kramer| Source: International Herald Tribune

Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko speaks to the media during a briefing at Russia's Foreign Ministry building in central Moscow July 17, 2007.

MOSCOW: Russia will respond in a "targeted" manner to Britain's expulsion of four diplomats in a confrontation over the radiation poisoning of a former KGB agent in London, a deputy foreign minister said Tuesday, without saying what, exactly, Russia has planned.

The official, Alexander Grushko, in a terse statement to reporters, suggested only that Russia may limit counterterrorism cooperation with the British government in response, threatening what had been a strength in the Russian-British relationship, though he offered no specifics.

While British diplomats tried to assuage concerns Tuesday in Moscow that the row would disrupt business, Grushko also suggested Russia would refrain from harming economic ties between the countries.

He said Russia's response, whatever it may be, would not harm ordinary citizens or businessmen.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman also said Russia will announce its countermeasures "very soon."

Britain announced Monday that it had expelled four diplomats from the Russian Embassy in London in response to Moscow's refusal to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, whom the British prosecutors accused of poisoning a defector from the Russian security services, Alexander Litvinenko.

In refraining from an immediate response, Russia left unanswered the key diplomatic question of whether the Kremlin would merely respond in kind, perhaps by expelling British diplomats, or would escalate the conflict with a harsh reply of its own.

"The more we study statements by British officials," Grushko said, "the more we are perplexed and resentful."

Grushko said that at the least, Russia's response would render law-enforcement cooperation between the countries "complicated, if not impossible" including on counterterrorism and anti-organized crime matters.

Also, in a suggestion that Russia may not be satisfied with a reciprocal expulsion of diplomats, Grushko noted that Britain had declined 21 extradition requests from Russia, including for an exiled tycoon, Boris Berezovsky, who now lives in London. If Russia used the same formula, he said, "the British Embassy would be short about 80 diplomats now."

British business have much to lose. Russia accounts for roughly 25 percent of BP's worldwide oil production.

British retail and mining companies also operate in Russia, while many Russian companies, including the national oil company Rosneft, list their stocks on the London Stock Exchange.

Meanwhile, Lugovoi, the former KGB agent and accused assassin at the center of the dispute, said in a somewhat taunting interview published Tuesday in the pro-government Izvestia newspaper that he has no plans to travel outside Russia any time soon.

"The U.K.'s demand will in no way affect my life," Lugovoi said. "I have my family and business in Russia and I am not going to leave. I feel quite comfortable here."