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Putin: UK spy row is 'mini-crisis'

  • Story Highlights
  • Putin says "mini-crisis" with UK over spy poisoning suspect will be overcome
  • Russia expelled 4 British diplomats Thursday amid growing diplomatic row
  • Britain condemns Russia's action as "completely unjustified"
  • Row sparked by Moscow's refusal to extradite suspect in spy poisoning case
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MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he believes relations with Britain will develop normally despite what he called a "mini-crisis" after tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions condemned by London as "completely unjustified."

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People in Moscow watch Russian government reaction to Britain's decision to expel four Russian diplomats.

Putin was speaking Thursday amid a mounting diplomatic row over Moscow's refusal to hand over a suspect in the poisoning death of an ex-KGB spy.

"I think relations between Russia and Britain will develop normally because both countries are interested in this," said Putin in his first comments on the row, according to Reuters.

"It is necessary to measure one's actions against common sense, respect the legitimate interests of partners and everything will be alright. I think we will overcome this mini-crisis," he said.

Thursday's expulsion by Russia of four British diplomats was prompted by the "provocative and unfriendly actions" of London in expelling four Russian diplomats on Monday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said at a brief news conference.

Moscow will also refuse to issue new visas to British government officials, and suspend dialogue with London on counterterrorism measures, Kamynin said.

The expelled British diplomats, who were not identified, must leave Russia within 10 days, the spokesman said.

British officials expelled the four Russian diplomats on Monday after Moscow's repeated refusals to hand over Andrei Lugovoi, a former Russian state security agent who is a suspect in the death of Alexander Litvinenko.

Russia has said its constitution does not allow extraditing its citizens to foreign countries and Putin has called the request "stupid," Reuters reported.

Britain criticized Russia's decision to expel the diplomats. "We are disappointed that the Russian government should have signaled no new cooperation in the case of the extradition of Mr. Andrei Lugovoi for the alleged murder of Alexander Litvinenko," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said.

"We obviously believe that the decision to expel four embassy staff was completely unjustified," he said, adding Britain was however heartened by expressions of support from the international community.

Litvinenko died in London in November after ingesting polonium 210, a rare radioactive isotope.

British prosecutors allege Lugovoi gave Litvinenko the poison during a meeting with him at the Millennium Hotel on November 1.

Litvinenko became violently ill hours later and died in a hospital November 23. The 43-year-old accused Putin of being behind his killing in a statement he made from his deathbed.

Traces of polonium were found in locations frequented by Lugovoi before Litvinenko's death, but he has insisted he is innocent, saying anti-Kremlin agents -- who may have wanted to implicate the Russian government -- or British intelligence probably murdered Litvinenko.

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Moscow authorities have proposed putting Lugovoi on trial in Russia, but British prosecutors have rejected this, doubting Moscow's promises of a fair trial.

Litvinenko, a former employee of Russia's Federal Security Service, fled to Britain in 2000 and became a fierce critic of Putin, accusing him of planning to kill his opponents, including journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was killed in October 2006.

On Wednesday exiled Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky said British police also warned him last month of a plot to kill him and he fled the country, escaping a threat he said bore the hallmarks of Russia's security service.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Russia on Thursday to honor Britain's request to extradite Lugovoi.

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"A terrible crime was committed on British soil and Britain has to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice," Rice told Sky News in Lisbon ahead of a meeting of the Quartet of Middle East negotiators.

"Russia should honor the extradition request and Russia should cooperate fully." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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