Russia is urging Britain to extradite 43 of its citizens who are wanted by judicial authorities in their home country, said Alexander Yakovenko, the Russian ambassador to the U.K.
Such a move would help improve relations between the two nations after U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron made the first visit to Russia by a British leader in five years, Yakovenko said in a phone interview in London yesterday.
“Now we have 43 extradition cases, unfortunately things are not moving,” he said. Russia hopes that “especially after the visit of Mr. Cameron, the two sides will cooperate more actively in this area.”
Relations soured to a post-Cold War low after the 2006 assassination of dissident ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London. Russia, which has refused to hand over Andrei Lugovoi, the chief suspect in the murder, has unsuccessfully sought the extradition of Chechen separatist leader Akhmed Zakayev, one-time billionaire Boris Berezovsky and other businessmen accused of fraud, some of whom have received political asylum.
Berezovsky, a Kremlin opponent who got the status of a political refugee in the U.K. after fleeing in 2001, has been sentenced to prison in absentia in Russia for embezzlement.
“For five years there was basically no cooperation in this area, there was no political dialogue, there were no visits, they didn’t talk to each other,” Yakovenko said. “Now I believe the situation will change.”
Extradition from the U.K. has to meet with statutory safeguards, including reference to human rights, and can be refused if the request is judged to be politically motivated, the U.K.’s Foreign Office said in an e-mailed statement today. Whether or not the person extradited will receive a fair trial is a factor in courts’ decisions and “this underlines the importance of President Dmitry Medvedev’s rule of law agenda,” the FCO said.
Giving people asylum in Britain doesn’t mean the U.K. supports their views and Britain is bound by the 1951 refugee convention and the European Convention on Human Rights, the FCO said. The Asylum and Immigration Tribunal, which is independent of government, makes decisions on refugee status, it said.
The former chief executive officer of Bank of Moscow, Andrei Borodin, is the subject of an international arrest warrant. Russian authorities are seeking him in connection with a $400 million loan alleged to have ended up in the accounts of ousted Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov’s billionaire wife, Yelena Baturina.
Borodin’s current whereabouts is unknown. The state-run RIA Novosti news service initially said he was in London. Both he and Baturina have denied any wrongdoing.
Luzhkov, whose wife earlier this month agreed to sell her construction empire, is living in the U.K., Yakovenko said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. published on its website Sept. 9.
Russian state media ran a series of critical reports against Luzhkov and Baturina in the run-up to the ex-mayor’s sacking last September by Medvedev. They accused Luzhkov, 74, of corruption and favoritism toward his wife, Russia’s richest woman, during his 18-year stewardship of Europe’s largest city. Both denied any impropriety.
Cameron said after talks in Moscow Sept. 12 that the nations hadn’t resolved their dispute over the Litvinenko case.
“The fact is that the two governments don’t agree,” he said. “We haven’t changed our position, and the Russians haven’t changed their position. I don’t believe that means we have to freeze the entire relationship.”
Litvinenko, who died of radiation poisoning, in a deathbed statement blamed then-President Vladimir Putin for his murder. The Kremlin dismissed the accusation as “absurd.”
The U.K. and Russia each expelled four diplomats and Russia forced the closure of British cultural offices outside Moscow. That followed Russia’s refusal to hand over Lugovoi, who is wanted by the U.K. for the November 2006 murder, because the country’s constitution forbids the extradition of its citizens.
The U.K. also froze cooperation with Russia’s Federal Security Service, the main successor to the KGB, a move that won’t be reversed unless Russia hands over Lugovoi, U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said Sept. 12.
Russia is satisfied with Cameron’s visit to Russia, said Yakovenko. “That event was a very important step toward a pragmatic dialogue between our two countries,” he said. “It is, of course, a green light to activate the political dialogue.”