British Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced on Monday that Britain will expel four diplomats from Russian embassy in London in response to Russia's refusal to extradite Andrei Lugovoi accused by Britain of murdering former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko.
"This is a situation the government has not sought and does not welcome. But we have no choice but to address it," Miliband said in a speech to parliament.
"We have chosen to expel four diplomats, four particular diplomats, in order to send a clear and proportionate signal to the Russian government about the seriousness of this case," he said.
In response, Russia said it would give an "adequate response" to Britain's decision, Russia's state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported on Monday.
Russia's Foreign Ministry chief spokesman Mikhail Kamynin speaks during a news briefing in Moscow July 16, 2007. Russia attacked Britain's expulsion of four Russian diplomats over Moscow's refusal to extradite a murder suspect as "immoral", Kamynin told reporters.
RIA quoted a "Moscow source" as saying Russia would answer Britain's measures, which also included the suspension of talks aimed at making visa issuance easier. It did not give further details.
Litvinenko, a former employee of Russia's Federal Security Service, fled to Britain and became a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin. He died an agonizing death in London after ingesting a lethal dose of the radioactive isotope polonium 210.
Relations between London and Moscow have deteriorated sharply since Litvinenko's death.
Moscow has since refused to extradite Andrei Lugovoy, a former state security agent. British prosecutors want to bring him before a British court and charge him with the murder of Litvinenko.
Moscow has dismissed as ridiculous the former KGB agent's deathbed accusation that Putin ordered his killing.
"It's a dramatic move to make, but it's not a total surprise. They've gone through all the normal judicial process and now they have to put on some other pressure," said Alex Bigham of the Foreign Policy Center, a think tank.
Besides expelling four diplomats, Miliband said Britain would review the extent of its cooperation with Russia on a number of issues, including changing the way Russian government officials get visas.
He said Britain had also suspended attempts to speed up the visa process for Russian citizens and said that if Lugovoy left Russia, international agreements meant he could be extradited.
Britain has rejected a Russian offer to put Lugovoy on trial at home, saying it doubts Moscow's promises of a fair trial.
Miliband stressed that a good relationship between London and Moscow was key because of international action on climate change, terrorism, Iran, Kosovo, the Middle East peace process, Sudan and nuclear proliferation.
"The government believes Russia is a key international partner for the UK," Miliband said. "For all these reasons we need a relationship based on trust and mutual respect.
Britain and Russia last clashed over diplomatic expulsions in March 1996, when Moscow ordered out a number of Britons amid claims of spying. Moscow expelled nine British diplomats in 1996 alleging that they were part of a spy ring. Britain expelled four Russians in response.
(China Daily via agencies July 17, 2007)