July 19, 2007

Russia Retaliates

Vladimir Putin has retaliated for the expulsion of four Russian diplomats from London. Russia expelled four British diplomats and announced that they would no longer cooperate with the UK on counterterrorism operations. However, analysts see some hope that the damage may be contained:

Russia today expelled four British diplomats, in tit-for-tat retaliation for Britain's expulsion of four of its own diplomats earlier this week.

Moscow also announced that it would withhold future co-operation with Britain in the war on terror, and stop issuing visas to British officials.

Russia's response had been expected since David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, announced on Monday that four Russian officials would be expelled from Britain following Moscow's failure to hand over Andrei Lugovoi, the man suspected of murdering Alexander Litvinenko.

The Russians could have raised the stakes on this confrontation, but apparently want to stop any further escalation. They took care to match what the Brown government did on Monday and go no further. In fact, the action is reminiscent of Cold War actions in diplomatic and espionage rows that erupted occasionally between the Soviets and Western nations. It even happened after the Cold War between Russia and the UK, in 1996.

Western eyebrows may get raised at the notion that Russia will end cooperation on security matters, but that also appears to be calculated to cause the least amount of blowback. Putin's government specifically stated that it would not cooperate with the UK -- which would allow other nations to act as intel conduits between the two nations. It puts more pressure on those nations to maintain ties to Moscow, though, and it calls into question Putin's commitment to global security against Islamist terrorism. If he just considers it a bargaining chip, then Russia can't have taken it all that seriously from the beginning.

Putin obviously hopes this will be the last word on this controversy. Gordon Brown has some thinking to do about whether they will let it be so. Do they want to keep poking the Russian bear, or will they swallow the insult to their sovereignty that two assassination attempts represent?


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Comments (8)

Posted by Philip | July 19, 2007 11:42 AM

All the more reason for the British people to have taken the fight against Islamist terrorism more seriously. Now they have two lukewarm battles.

I feel sorry for the Russian people. It seems they will never get it. Together we could have been riding motorcycles on Mars by now. Putin has failed his people - he has failed the world.

Posted by Blaise MacLean | July 19, 2007 11:55 AM

This is an issue which, I believe, highlights the essential laziness of the media. Anyone who follows the news knows that Scotland Yard detectives went to Moscow to investigate the murder of Mr. Alexander Litvinenko. As a result of their "enquiries" they have concluded that Mr. Andrei Lugovoi ought to be charged with his murder and have requested his extradition.

But Mr. Lugovoi is a Russian citizen. In refusing the extradition request, the Russian government has said that their constitution prohibits the extradition of Russian citizens.

So, all the media dutifully report these facts...he said /she said style.

But I ask you: what would a halfway industrious reporter do to follow up this dispute? Wouldn't any reporter with the slightest curiosity about the issue check to find out what the Russian constitution actually says on this point?

This is worth reporting. If the Russians are being truthful, then it would be illegal for them to extradite Mr. Lugovoi. Futher, the British should know this (or at least be able to confirm it, as should any modestly curious reporter). Thus, if the Russians are being truthful, then the British expulsion of 4 diplomats would look a bit disingenuous, wouldn't it?

On the other hand, if the Russian constitution contains no such prohibition, then their refusal to extradite Mr. Lugovoi takes on a completely different texture, as would their "retaliation" in expelling 4 British diplomats. It would raise questions about why the Putin government is protecting Mr. Lugovoi.

In other words, a lot of fundamentally important questions which really should be reported on, and even the laziest of reporters could get started on this by Googling "Russian constitution ". Then they could check out Article 61.

And then, if they had even a modicum of curiosity, they could start to ask a few questions.

But they are gut lazy.

Posted by Dusty | July 19, 2007 2:22 PM

"Moscow also announced that it would withhold future co-operation with Britain in the war on terror, and stop issuing visas to British officials."

I haven't followed the details, Ed, but did the Brits say they would stop co-operating with the Russians in the war on terror and stop issuing visas to Russian officials?

If neither nor both, then isn't it the case that the Russians raised the stakes or do I have to learn new rules for playing poker?

Posted by SkyWatch | July 19, 2007 3:43 PM

us Western nations should call his bluff and stop cooperating with his intel services. Let him go in the dark for awhile.

Posted by ShochuJohn | July 19, 2007 7:43 PM

"it calls into question Putin's commitment to global security against Islamist terrorism."

I think you'll find that Pootie-Poot is less interested in the war against Islamojihadifascototalitarianism, then say, your average reader here. This is strictly self-interested. Russia's fights with Muslims tend to be related to Chechnya. Russia would prefer not to blow that conflict into an epic battle for civilization because that will be a nonstop pain in his ass. He'd prefer to frame that issue as a simple appeal to Russian nationalism. That way, it sells at home without convicing every Salafi on the Arabian peninsula that those vodka-swilling Chechen "Muslims" are deserving of financial backing in their struggle against, if not the Great Satan, then at least a lesser Satan.

Posted by ChrisO | July 20, 2007 2:56 AM

In answer to Blaise's question, yes, the Russian constitution does contain such a prohibition. The thing is that the Russian government only follows its constitution when it suits it. Several Russian citizens accused of anti-government activity in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan (both very nasty dictatorships) have already been extradited despite what the constitution says. In fact, 90% of such cases reportedly proceed without even a formal hearing. The insistence on constitutional niceties in the Lugovoy case is, shall we say, somewhat unusual.

Posted by chris edwards | July 20, 2007 6:00 AM

Why would comrade Brown bother about our sovreignty? he and his scottish buddy Bliar hav given it ti the EU, our vestigal government have no control over our borders, waters, immigration and now taxes, Putin is probably "nicer" to us than our masters in Brussels. Dont forget the Labour party are niced up communists so have big symathies to Russia.

Posted by Blaise | July 20, 2007 5:07 PM

ChrisO: Right, but it provides a lot more context to the debate, doesn't it. For example, the Russians have sought extradition of a number of citizens from the UK. These requests have been denied. One of those whose extradition was denied was a well known Chechen terrorist leader.

There are a lot of issues to balance and to examine in respect of this case. For example, there is the possibility of fair trials in Russia, or the personal security of the accused. Nonetheless, informed public discussion of this matter is impossible, in my view, if the people do not know that, at law at least, Russia has a point about the constitutionaility of extradition, and the British knew this when they sought extradition.