At a press conference in Moscow today, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Grushko said that Moscow will make a "targeted and adequate" response to Britain's expulsion of four diplomats.
"Our reaction will be targeted and adequate," Grushko said . "The British authorities will be officially informed about it very soon. At the same time we will take into account the interests of ordinary citizens, tourists, participants of cultural and science exchanges, and members of the business community. We do not want them to suffer as a result of London's political actions."
Grushko slammed British Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s suggestion that the Russian Constitution’s ban on extradition should be changed, and said London is “unfairly” punishing Moscow for observing its own laws."It was also announced in London that several areas of cooperation with Russia were to be revised, including the issuing of visas," Grushko added. "It was declared that any contact or cooperation with the Federal Security Service would be refused. At the same time [British] officials continue to claim that Great Britain is prepared to continue cooperation with Russia in the fight against new threats and challenges, including terrorism. Such statements contradict each other, considering the central role the Federal Security Service plays in the fight against terrorism."
Britain’s decision to impose the measures have laid the groundwork for a “confrontation” between the two governments, Grushko said. "It is obvious that the sanctions that are being introduced in order to politicize the Litvinenko case, including the expulsion of four Russian diplomats from London, are not an invitation to cooperation but, contrary to what the British side has stated, a direct path to confrontation and to narrowing the possibilities for interaction with Russia on a broad range of issues," he said.
If Moscow had behaved as London had, "80 [British] diplomats" would have been kicked out of Russia by now, he added.
In London, Russian Ambassador Yury Fedotov expressed concern that the diplomatic incident has escalated to a dangerous level. "We have to think what can be done in order to overcome this current stage of deterioration of bilateral relations, but a lot depends on the political will of the British government," he said. "Unfortunately, what they decided and how they decided to politicize this matter can affect the overall relations between our two countries."
Russian newspapers today described the move as an act of "diplomatic war." Russian politicians, meanwhile, are calling for a strong reaction from Moscow, which has already informed Britain that "the most serious consequences" will result.
The business daily "Kommersant" described the dispute as one of "unprecedented scale," while the government daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" listed 21 extradition requests filed by Russia that Britain has refused over the past six years.
The row erupted on July 16 after Britain said it will expel the unidentified diplomats as a result of Russia's failure to comply with London's request that it extradite Andrei Lugovoi.
British prosecutors have charged Lugovoi, a former KGB agent, in the high-profile killing of former Russian security-service officer Aleksandr Litvinenko.
Litvinenko died in a London hospital in November after being poisoned by polonium-210, a highly radioactive substance.
'No Choice' On Diplomatic Decision
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told the House of Commons on July 16 that his government had no choice but to take strong action.
"Given the importance of this issue and Russia's failure to cooperate to find a solution, we need an appropriate response," Miliband 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 visitors."
Following the British announcement, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin threatened strong retaliation.
"London's position is immoral. I will go even further. London should understand that provocative actions undertaken by British authorities will be not left unanswered and, on the whole, will have the most serious consequences for Russian-British relations. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that frankly to his British colleague in a phone conversation just hours ago," Kamynin said.
Kamynin accused Britain of trying to politicize the Litvinenko case and to justify its own refusal to extradite to Russia several opponents of Moscow, including businessman Boris Berezovsky and Chechen separatist leader Akhmed Zakayev.
But the British foreign secretary said that a strong case has been built against Lugovoi, who is suspected of poisoning Litvinenko during a meeting shortly before his death.
"The Metropolitan Police has assembled a significant body of evidence against Andrei Lugovoi," Miliband said. "I can confirm the following: It is alleged that this grave crime took place in London in November 2006, when Mr. Lugovoi poisoned Mr. Litvinenko by administering a lethal dose of polonium-210, a highly radioactive substance."
Tit-for-Tat Move Expected
Russia last week formally refused Britain's request for Lugovoi's extradition, saying the Russian Constitution forbids its citizens from being tried in foreign countries.
However, Miliband said that despite Russia's refusal, Lugovoi could still end up in British custody if he travels to a third country that has an extradition treaty with Britain.
Andrei Soldatov, a security expert and editor in chief of the Russian website agentura.ru, told RFE/RL's Russian Service on July 16 that Moscow will likely respond in kind to Britain's decision to expel its diplomats.
"The Foreign Ministry will most probably take action. The Russian Foreign Ministry will try to stage some sort of buffoonery out of this and expel four diplomats again," Soldatov said.
If Russia reacts as he expects, Soldatov said, it won't be the first time.
"This is not the first spy scandal between Russia and Britain," he said. "Expulsions of diplomats took place on both sides already in the new era, in the 1990s."
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James Bond isn't the only character in Russia and Britain's history of espionage
1960-71: 27 Soviet Embassy officials told to leave the United Kingdom.
1971: Britain expels 105 staffers of Soviet diplomatic missions for alleged spying. They are exposed by Oleg Lyalin, the first Soviet intelligence agent to defect since World War II. Russia responds by expelling 18 British Embassy staffers from Moscow.
1994: John Scarlett, now head of MI6, expelled from Moscow, where he was serving as an MI6 officer. In response Britain expels a Russian diplomat. Russian company manager Vadim Sintsov arrested for spying for Britain, is sentenced to 10 years of hard labor.
1995: Britain expels 25 alleged Soviet spies; USSR follows by expelling 25 Britons.
1996: Russia expels nine British diplomats it claims are running a spy ring. Britain responds by throwing out four Russians.
2000: Junior Russian diplomat Platon Obukhov, the son of a former Soviet deputy foreign minister, sentenced to 11 years in prison for spying for Britain. Verdict is overturned by Russian Supreme Court.
2004: Weapons expert Igor Sutyagin convicted of treason and passing classified military information to a British company alleged to be a front for the CIA. Sentenced to 15 years in prison.
2006: Russia accuses four British Embassy employees of conducting an espionage operation that included the use of a "spy rock." Russia chooses not to expel the four.