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Russian Officials Predict Swift End to Diplomatic Crisis with Britain


Senior Russian officials continue to blame Britain for the ongoing diplomatic dispute between London and Moscow. But as VOA Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports from Moscow, the Kremlin is expressing confidence that the crisis will soon be over.

Speaking in Portugal at a meeting of the Middle East Quartet, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said much of the diplomatic tension between Moscow and London may be attributed to the new British government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Lavrov said that government will gain experience, find its bearings, and begin to work for the benefit of the British people.

Sitting to Lavrov's left, however, was Mr. Brown's predecessor, Tony Blair, now the Quartet's Middle East envoy.

It was Mr. Blair's government that first filed an extradition request for ex-KGB officer Andrei Lugovoi. British authorities want to try Lugovoi for the London murder of Alexander Litvinenko, a Kremlin critic and also a former KGB agent who became a British subject. Moscow refuses to hand over Lugovoi, saying the Russian constitution prohibits extradition of its citizens.

Prime Minister Lavrov added that Britain has yet to present evidence, which would justify an extradition.

He says Russia does not have the relevant case material and does not know what specifically led British investigators to the accusation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said last month at the G-8 summit in Germany that even if the Russian Constitution were to be amended, valid reasons would be needed to do so. Mr. Putin added that Britain has not offered such reasons. The Russian leader has also offered to try Andrei Lugovoi in a Russian court.

Tensions escalated this week when Britain ordered the expulsion of four Russian diplomats and Moscow responded by expelling four British diplomats.

On Thursday, President Putin called the diplomatic row with Britain a mini-crisis that should soon end.

The Russian leader says his country is interested in developing relations with Britain, but he says the two countries need to coordinate their actions based on common sense, respect for the law, and the interests of the partners. He says that then everything will turn out for the best.

Leading London newspapers Friday summarized British public sentiment on the matter, saying the rights of each individual must be respected and that Russia must not allow murder to be used to settle political scores.

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