LONDON – Britain made a bold extradition request Tuesday for a former KGB bodyguard in the poisoning death of an ex-Soviet spy turned Kremlin critic. Russia immediately refused the request, creating a standoff with Europe’s leading energy supplier and threatening to plunge relations to a post-Cold War low.
British prosecutors say they have enough evidence to charge Andrei Lugovoi with the murder of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko. Lugovoi met with Litvinenko at a London hotel the day his tea was poisoned with polonium-210, a radioactive substance.
Lugovoi, a former KGB bodyguard, denied involvement Tuesday, saying the charges were politically motivated.
The Russian ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Office, and Prime Minister Tony Blair’s office said it expected full cooperation.
“Murder is murder; this is a very serious case,” a Blair spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government policy. “The manner of the murder was also very serious because of the risks to public health.”
On his deathbed, the 43-year-old Litvinenko accused President Vladimir Putin of being behind his killing. He had also accused Russian authorities of being behind a deadly 1999 apartment blast and the murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya.
The Russian government has denied any involvement in Litvinenko’s death.
Although there is an extradition agreement between Russia and Britain, Russian law forbids the extradition of nationals.
The Russian prosecutor-general’s office said it would not hand over Lugovoi to British authorities. “Citizens of Russia cannot be turned over to foreign states,” spokeswoman Marina Gridneva told reporters.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said it was awaiting more details on the charge from British prosecutors but also signaled that Lugovoi’s extradition was unlikely.
A formal extradition request was to be handed to the Russians this week.