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Russia's Dispute With Britain Threatens To Spill Over Into EU Ties

Britain wants Russia to extradite Andrei Lugovoi (left) to face charges in the poisoning death of Aleksandr Litvinenko (right) in London in November (file photos) (AFP) BRUSSELS, July 24, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Escalating tensions between Britain and Russia are threatening to spill over into Moscow's relations with the European Union.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband urged his EU colleagues at a meeting in Brussels on July 23 to hold a "strategic discussion" on Russia. Miliband said Russia must face the consequences of its refusal to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, charged by British prosecutors in the poisoning death of former Russian security-service officer Aleksandr Litvinenko in London in November 2006.

Miliband said he told the other 26 EU ministers present that in Britain's eyes, the "integrity of its judicial system" is at stake. He also said his government remains concerned about the safety of the thousands of visitors to Russia.

Wider Ramifications

The British foreign minister also indicated Russia's actions in this case have wider ramifications, which must be reflected in its relationship with the entire EU.

"I think that there was a widespread view that we should have a strategic discussion in September at the informal [EU foreign ministers' meeting in Portugal]," Miliband said. "There are a range of issues on which either the EU countries individually or the EU as a whole is engaging with the Russian Federation, and it's important that we think about that in a strategic way."

He noted that his request had received "widespread support."

Britain expelled four Russian diplomats on July 16 over Russia's refusal to extradite Lugovoi. Moscow responded by ejecting four British Embassy staff there on July 19.

"I think everyone... would want our relations with Russia to respect the position of Russia, but equally to say that with the rights associated with close partnership and [membership in] the international community go responsibilities as well, and those apply for all sides." -- British Foreign Secretary David Miliband

Miliband said London sees as "helpful" a statement issued by the current holder of the EU's rotating presidency, Portugal, which expressed the bloc's solidarity with Britain, and disappointment at the failure by Russian authorities to cooperate with London in the Litvinenko murder case.

But London clearly wants more. Miliband indicated today that London believes the EU cannot afford to ignore Moscow's behavior.

"I think everyone there would want our relations with Russia to respect the position of Russia," Miliband said, "but equally to say that with the rights associated with close partnership and [membership in] the international community go responsibilities as well, and those apply for all sides."

Relations Already Strained

Russia's relations with the EU are already strained on a number of fronts.

Poland has been blocking talks on a new strategic partnership accord between the EU and Russia since the autumn in protest at a Russian embargo on Polish meat and plant exports. A number of other new EU member states have other complaints vis-a-vis Moscow.

The EU has also been struggling to sidestep any fallout from U.S. plans set up missile-defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic, fiercely contested by Moscow.

The EU has attacked what it believes are shortcomings in Russia's democratic record and various rights violations, but joint criticism has been muted. The bloc is heavily dependent on Russian energy imports, and most of its old, continental member states believe it needs Moscow as a long-term strategic partner.

Britain's anger, therefore, has touched a nerve.

At a news conference on July 23, Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado curtly dismissed questions on the subject, saying the EU reaction would remain limited to its statement of solidarity.

However, Britain is one of the largest EU countries and enjoys considerable backing among the bloc's eastern member states. London dropped a heavy hint on July 23 that it could join Poland in blocking the plans for a new strategic partnership accord when Miliband said he believed it should have "a coda highlighting the Litvinenko case."

This would hardly be acceptable to Moscow.

Tit For Tat

Tit For Tat

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.


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