Thu, Jul 26, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Putin pans `colonial thinking'

WAR OF WORDS The Russian president said that the British proposal that his nation should change its Constitution to extradite Andrei Lugovoi insulted the Russian people

AP, MOSCOW

Russian President Vladimir Putin smiles as his dog Kony meets with representatives of pro-Kremlin youth organizations at Putin's presidential residence in Zavidovo, Tver region, Russia, on Tuesday.

PHOTO: EPA

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday took the war of words with London to new heights, angrily dismissing British demands for the extradition of the sole suspect in the murder of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko as a relic of British "colonial thinking."

"They are making proposals to change our Constitution which are insulting for our nation and our people," Putin said in televised remarks during a meeting with activists of pro-Kremlin youth organizations. "It's their brains, not our Constitution, which need to be changed. What they are offering to us is a clear remnant of colonial thinking."

Prime Minister Gordon Brown's office had no immediate comment on Putin's remarks.

A Foreign Office spokesman said Britain hoped to persuade Moscow to hand over the suspect, former KGB officer Andrei Lugovoi.

"We continue to look for a willingness from the Russian authorities to work constructively with us to bring this crime, committed in the UK, to justice in a UK court," he said, on the government's customary condition of anonymity.

Putin's statement comes amid escalating tensions between Moscow and London over Russia's refusal to extradite Lugovoi, the sole suspect in the poisoning death of Litvinenko. Lugovoi was one of three Russians who met with Litvinenko in a London hotel on Nov. 1, the day he fell ill after ingesting radioactive polonium-210.

The standoff escalated last week after Britain responded to Russia's refusal to extradite Lugovoi by announcing the expulsion of four Russian diplomats. Russia countered by announcing that it will expel four British diplomats.

Russia said Lugovoi could not be extradited because its Constitution forbids it, but Britain's ambassador Sir Anthony Brenton challenged that argument in an interview published on Monday and said Russia could get around the ban if it wanted to cooperate in the case.

Putin called Litvinenko's death a "tragedy" but said that the British proposal to change the Constitution showed that British officials were still thinking in terms of the British Empire.

"They forgot that Britain is no longer a colonial power," he said. "They insult themselves by giving such advice, showing that they are thinking in terms of the last or even previous century."

"They need to treat their partners with respect, then we will show respect to them," Putin said.

Litvinenko, a renegade former member of the Russian secret services hated by many former colleagues, died in a London hospital in November. He accused President Vladimir Putin on his deathbed of being behind his poisoning -- charges the Kremlin has angrily denied.

Russia has offered to try Lugovoi in Moscow if Britain presents sufficient evidence against him, but London said it was not an option for British prosecutors.

Russia's Deputy Prosecutor General Alexander Zvyagintsev said on Monday that Russian investigators were working on "all versions," including "evidence that people from Litvinenko's close circle in London might have been involved in the crime."

Litvinenko was an ally of two other fierce Kremlin critics with political asylum in Britain -- Boris Berezovsky, a former Kremlin insider, and Akhmed Zakayev, a Chechen separatist leader.

Russian officials and lawmakers have suggested the killing of Litvinenko was a plot, possibly hatched by Berezovsky, to blacken Russia's reputation. Berezovsky denied it.

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