Russia’s Foreign Ministry is dismissing a British inquiry’s conclusion that Russian President Vladimir Putin "probably" approved a 2006 assassination operation in which the country's spy agency poisoned its former agent Alexander Litvinenko in London.
“We regret that the purely criminal case has been politicized and has marred the entire atmosphere of bilateral relations," said ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova in Russian state media.
"Of course, we need time to study in detail the content of this document and after that we will give a full assessment," she added.
Litvinenko’s death by radiation poisoning at a hotel in London has been a sore point in British and Russian relations. Moscow refused to turn over the prime suspects, Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun. Lugovoy has since been given his own television show and became a Russian lawmaker, giving him immunity from prosecution.
But Russia has made clear it has no intention of allowing an independent investigation or prosecution of either man.
At an afternoon press conference, Zakharova claimed Russia supports an unbiased investigation into Litvinenko’s death. She linked the inquiry to Ukraine, another sore point in relations, saying it was probably not a coincidence the public inquiry coincided with the deterioration of the situation there.
Marina Litvinenko, widow of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, speaks during a press conference with her son Anatoly in London, Jan. 21, 2016.
Reactions from the street
On the streets of Moscow, many people VOA talked to were unaware of the inquiry or its results, coming nearly a decade after Litvinenko’s death. Those who were aware of the case expressed support for Putin.
Female retiree Irina Lapshina insisted to VOA the Russian president could not possibly have known about the alleged assassination and she is not happy with the British inquiry's findings.
"My reaction is negative because our Putin wouldn't do that," she said. "A person respected in his country and throughout the world simply wouldn't allow that,” she added.
University student Vlada Staty expressed unconditional support for Putin, telling VOA even if he was aware of a planned assassination of Litvinenko it would have been done in the best interest of Russia.
"I think that our president is a true patriot. Everything he does, he does to improve our country. So the people here live better," she said. "If he knows something," she adds, "then, that means it's better for the people, it's the way it should be."
Organizer in the 'Russian Patriots' political party Dmitry Mashinsky expressed a common conspiracy theory in Russia.
"I think the majority of Russians agree with me when I say the Litvinenko case is insinuations hatched in Western circles in order to smear the leadership of Russia," he said. "In this instance," he concludes, "the court's findings confirm the idea that the West is propagating a massive campaign to discredit Russia's leader, Vladimir Putin."
British authorities announced they were freezing any assets of the two suspects, and the Russian ambassador was summoned after the British prime minister’s office called the inquiry’s findings ‘extremely disturbing.’
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, on Wednesday said the Litvinenko case was not something that interests the Kremlin.
Russia is under European Union sanctions for annexing Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and for fueling and arming a separatist insurgency in Ukraine’s east, a charge it denies.
Mark Grinberg contributed to this report.