|British-Russians relations fall furthern into the mire as the British expel four Russian diplomats in response to the refusal by the Russians to extradite the chief suspect of the murder of British citizen Alexander Litvinenko last year
Many are now asking: Is this the start of a new Cold War, between Britain and Russia?......
Russian diplomats to be expelled from Britain
By Felix Lowe and David Blair
David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, today announced that four Russian diplomats will be expelled following Moscow’s failure to hand over the man suspected of murdering former KGB agent, Alexander Litvinenko.
The Russian foreign office has reacted by labelling the expulsion "immoral" and claims it will have serious consequences.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Miliband said that Russia’s failure to cooperate with the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi was “extremely disappointing”. He told MPs that his decision was the “appropriate response” given the seriousness of the crime.
“We need a relationship based on trust and mutual respect,” he said. “The foundation of a successful international partnership is a set of shared values and it is up to Government to assure the integrity of the legal process.”
As well as expelling four diplomats, Mr Miliband said that the Government would be reviewing the extent of its relationship with Russia “on a range of issues”.
The expulsions were part of a package of four actions, including international agreements meaning Mr Lugovoi could be extradited to the UK if he travelled abroad. Changes had also been made to visa practices between the two countries.
Mr Miliband stressed that Russia was an important ally and that the "grave" situation was one that Britain had "not sought and does not welcome".
On Sunday, Mr Miliband had called Litvinenko’s murder in London last November a “very serious crime” and said that the judicial process “must be seen through”.
Mr Litvinenko, a fierce critic of the Russian regime, died on 23 November from a fatal dose of the extremely rare radioactive isotope polonium 210. Mr Miliband said that the welfare of many British citizens and visiting tourists had been put at stake by the attack.
A Scotland Yard investigation has gathered enough evidence to press charges against Mr Lugovoi, another former KGB spy. But the Russian authorities have refused to extradite Mr Lugovoi, who protests his innocence.
A Moscow source told the state-run news agency RIA that the Kremlin would give an "adequate response" to the British expulsion. It is thought that President Vladimir Putin’s government will almost certainly respond by ejecting British diplomats from Russia.
The Russian foreign minister was informed by Mr Miliband of the expulsions 30 minutes before the move was unveiled to the Commons. The Russian Embassy in London, which refused to give an interview, did say it was "closely examining" what Mr Miliband had said.
Relations between the two countries are now at their lowest ebb since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. The two countries have not expelled any of each other’s diplomats since a row over spying allegations in 1996.
At present, Britain is Russia’s largest foreign investor, with particular interests in the energy sector.
Mr Miliband’s stance was welcomed by the shadow foreign secretary, William Hague, who said: "An appalling crime of this nature and gravity cannot simply be overlooked."