David Cameron was told last night Russia will ‘never’ hand over the prime suspect for the murder of Alexander Litvinenko.
The Prime Minister – making the first visit by a British leader to Moscow for six years – got short shrift from Russian president Dmitry Medvedev over the dissident’s murder in London and his calls for Russia to take steps to end corruption in its economy.
The two leaders were wreathed in smiles as they attempted to rebuild Anglo-Russian relations, which have been at their iciest since the end of the Cold War.
But there was an uncompromising message from the Kremlin over the case of Litvinenko, a British citizen who was poisoned with radioactive polonium-210 in London five years ago in what is alleged to have been a state-sponsored assassination.
Mr Medvedev made it clear Russia will never agree to extradite Andrei Lugovoy, the ex-KGB officer who is chief suspect in the murder, and now a member of the Russian parliament, for trial in Britain, insisting such a move would be unconstitutional.
‘That will never happen, no matter what the circumstances,’ he declared. To add insult to injury, Lugovoy himself suggested Litvinenko was involved in the illegal trade of nuclear material and had therefore been assassinated by the British secret services.
The Prime Minister’s 24-hour visit to Moscow also saw him hold face to face talks with Vladimir Putin, who is widely expected to return to the Kremlin as president next year.
The Premier stressed the Government was not giving up on attempts to extradite Lugovoy, but risked angering critics of the Russian regime by suggesting relations could move ‘beyond’ the incident. ‘It’s not parking an issue, just recognising there’s a disagreement, that hasn’t changed,’ Mr Cameron said. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made it clear Britain should forget ‘ideological obsessions’ over the spy’s murder.
He told First magazine: ‘We cannot afford to be guided by politicised and stereotyped approaches inherited from a different era.
‘More and more people, including politicians, understand that ideological obsessions must give way to pragmatism and the search for balance of interests, both internationally and in bilateral relations of states, in spite of the fact that governments might differ on certain matters.
‘Key national interests of Russia and Britain are not contradictory. This is why we believe that the Moscow summit will provide further impetus to the mutual efforts to take our relationship to a new level.’
Mr Cameron, 44, was last in Russia in 2006 for the G8 summit in St Petersburg, and relations between the two countries nosedived following that trip when Mr Litvinenko was poisoned in London.
He called for a ‘new approach based on co-operation’.
Mr Cameron said: ‘Right now we both face enormous challenges from providing for our ageing populations and securing sustainable economic growth to protecting our countries against a global terrorist threat.
‘The countries that will be successful in the 21st century will not be those that hunker down, pull up the drawbridge and fail to overcome their differences with others.’
However, he rebuffed Mr Medvedev’s calls for Britain to start sharing its intelligence secrets with Russia again. Contacts between our intelligence services and their Russian counterparts were suspended in the wake of the Litvinenko row.
The Prime Minister had to balance calls for him to stand up to the Russian regime over issues of corruption and human rights with his desire to extend economic ties.
In what is becoming a trademark for his foreign visits, he was accompanied by a planeload of business leaders anxious to sign contracts. He also used the visit to raise concerns about reports of asset seizures at British firms competing in Russia.
Mr Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, said she wanted to see those responsible for her husband’s death brought to justice before there could be ‘normal progress of the relationship between these countries’.
The one-day visit was also aimed at strengthening business links and improving conditions for UK firms in Russia.
British Petroleum (BP) chairman Bob Dudley was among 24 senior executives travelling with Mr Cameron, with some £215million of deals on the table which could create 500 UK jobs.
The leaders were also due to discuss Syria, where they disagree over how to react to brutal repression by the regime, Iran’s nuclear programme and Libya.
CAMERON ‘WOULD’VE BEEN A GOOD KGB SPY’
Russia’s president said David Cameron would have made a ‘good’ spy for the Soviet Union after the Prime Minister claimed the KGB tried to recruit him.
Mr Cameron raised embarrassed laughs from an audience of students at Moscow State University as he suggested efforts were made to enlist him as a double agent when he made a gap year visit to their country in 1985.
He said he was on the Black Sea coast when he was approached by two Russians who took him to dinner and asked about his life and politics.
‘When I got back I told my tutor and he asked me whether it was an interview,’ said Mr Cameron. ‘If it was, it seems I didn’t get the job.’
Mr Cameron later insisted he would not have been an effective spy, but a laughing Dmitry Medvedev said: ‘I’m pretty sure David would have been a very good KGB agent. But in this case he would never have become Prime Minister of the UK.’
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