July 23, 2007

Britain: Kremlin Hypocrisy On Constitution

Britain kept the pressure on Russia over its demands for extradition in the assassination case of Alexander Litvinenko. Responding to the Kremlin's claims that their constitution forbids the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi, the British Ambassador in Moscow pointed out that Russian compliance with its constitution has been rather situational:

Sir Anthony Brenton, the British Ambassador in Moscow, said yesterday that Russia could get around the prohibition if it wanted to cooperate in bringing Andrei Lugovoy to trial. Mr Lugovoy is accused of poisoning Litvinenko with radioactive polonium210 at a London hotel in November, but insists that he is innocent.

In comments timed to infuriate the Kremlin, Sir Anthony highlighted sections of the Constitution that are routinely ignored in Russia. His remarks came as Britain prepared to step up pressure on Russia by raising Mr Lugovoy’s extradition at a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Brussels today. Russia’s Prosecutor-General is expected to respond by setting out details of the cooperation that it has given Britain in investigating the case. Russia says that Article 61 of its Constitution forbids extradition of citizens to face trial abroad. ...

“For example, it states that economic activities aimed at monopolisation are prohibited (Article 34); that people have the right to choose freely their place of residence in Russia, including in Moscow (Article 27), and that Duma deputies cannot engage in paid work (Article 97),” he said. “We are not asking Russia to violate its Constitution, but to work with us creatively to find a way around this impediment, given the serious and unprecedented nature of this murder. Such cooperation has not been forthcoming.”

Despite the constitutional provisions, Gazprom has a monopoly on gas supplies in Russia, citizens can live in Moscow and other main cities only if they can get a registration certificate, and most deputies in the Duma, Russia’s parliament, have outside business interests. The Constitution also guarantees the right to demonstrate, but police routinely break up opposition marches against President Putin.

Clearly, Britain has not decided to allow the dispute to cool. If Vladimir Putin believed that its tit-for-tat expulsions and the threat of non-cooperation on terror would stop the British from pressing the issue, he obviously miscalculated. It seems highly unusual for an ambassador to scold his host country over its hypocrisy on enforcing its own laws, unless that country did not fret over a complete diplomatic break. The Brown government appears ready to risk that.

Russia has responded by attempting to minimize the damage it has caused itself. The Deputy Prime Minister, Sergei Ivanov, said in a recent speech that Russia might turn towards the East rather than the West for its future development, primarily India and China. The head of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepeneurs hinted that Russians might pull out of the London stock markets, creating an economic crisis for Britain.

These are empty threats. Russia needs British and Western investment far more than Britain needs Russian capital. Britain provides the largest foreign investment in Russia, and an end to that flow of capital would have significant repercussions for the Russian economy and the Putin regime as a result. India and China need capital themselves, and while they could send some investment to Russia, they have rightly focused on self-investment while they attempt to compete with the West.

The Brits are serious about Lugovoi, and the Russians are running out of options.


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Comments (7)

Posted by Eg | July 23, 2007 7:48 AM

NATO jets tail Russian aircraft for second time in a week

The incidents were no doubt purely coincidental to current & on-going events.

Posted by lexhamfox | July 23, 2007 10:34 AM

I don't think that extradition is the main issue here. Russia still observes the 1957 European Treaty on Extraditions which is more commonly cited in this matter and others rather than the Russian constitution itself.

I think the main reason for the bad blood between the Brits and the Russians is the lack of cooperation in the investigation and the assertion of various Russian security executives that the extradition and investigation were part of some larger espionage efforts by the British Government. The Deputy PM's comments Ed cites are completely out of synch with the Russian Foreign Ministry's take on relations with the UK. Lavrov was pretty clear last Friday on how he saw the relationship and his wanting see it normalized again. Both sides are playing for domestic audiences but the fact remains that Russia has a proven record of assassinations in the UK.

Posted by mojo | July 23, 2007 12:03 PM

Turn east? Who's he kidding? The ChiComs would gleefully eat them alive and India is much more interested in good relations with the US than with Putty's shambolic dictatorship-in-potentia...

Posted by KendraWilder | July 23, 2007 2:27 PM

The Brits might want to be a bit more circumspect in demanding extradition of Andrei Lugovoi. After all, the Queen just knighted Salman Rushdie, reinvigorating Iranian ire and death threat over his "The Satanic Verses", and the current Iranian leadership might demand that Sir Rushdie be extradited to faces charges.

Posted by Ray | July 23, 2007 9:13 PM

Any threats that Putin may issue are rather worthless as Russia is far too dependent upon Western Europe for their monetary investments in Russian economy, as Ed has pointed out. Add this to the fact that Russia's military is in a shambles and the understanding that Russia has little influence amongst their former allies and you can see just how empty his threats really are.

Putin is attempting to employ a little saber rattling but, since he has no saber to rattle, it is nothing more than useless rhetoric.

Posted by Ray | July 23, 2007 9:18 PM

"The Brits might want to be a bit more circumspect in demanding extradition of Andrei Lugovoi. After all, the Queen just knighted Salman Rushdie, reinvigorating Iranian ire and death threat over his "The Satanic Verses", and the current Iranian leadership might demand that Sir Rushdie be extradited to faces charges.
Posted by: KendraWilder at July 23, 2007 2:27 PM"

I didn't realize that Putin was a member of the Iranian government or that Russia has transfered their sovereignty to Iran. Nor did I know that Andrei Lugovoi was an Iranian citizen. Imagine my surprise!

Posted by Ray | July 23, 2007 9:24 PM

Also, since Salman Rushdie currently resides in America, it would be rather difficult for England to extradite him, wouldn't you agree?