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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Battle Berezovsky

The Beeb reports on a threat against the life of dissident oligarch Boris Berezovsky. BB's critics may well point out how "convenient" it is that this "threat" emerges just when BB has been indicted for fraud in Brazil. What they won't notice is just how "convenient" that indictment itself is, coming just when the Kremlin has entered a massive diplomatic conflict with Britain over its refusal to extradite accused Litvinenko killer Andrei Lugovoi. Does the Kremlin have its malignant hooks into the Brazilian government? Or did that government just so happen to decide to move against BB right at the perfect time? A fascinating story is unfolding, to be sure. The European Union has stepped solidly behind Britain in the confrontation. The new cold war has begun. Vladimir Putin has led his country into a battle with NATO, the EU and the USA that it can't possibly even wage, much less win -- in other words, he's led it to the brink of utter ruin.

Exiled Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky has claimed British intelligence officers thwarted a plot to kill him.

Mr Berezovsky told the BBC he had been warned about the alleged plot by sources in Russia and Scotland Yard. The Sun newspaper reported that a Russian hitman had been hired to execute him at a London hotel. The claims could further damage Russia-UK relations which are already strained in a row over extradition.

'Business reasons'

Mr Berezovsky, 61, who lives in London, told BBC Radio Five Live he had received information about the alleged plot from sources in Russia. He said he was told that "someone who you know will come to Britain, he will try to connect to you, and when you meet him he will just kill you and will not try to hide". The killer would then say the murder was "just because of business reasons", Mr Berezovsky said. "And in this case he will get 20 years, he will spend just 10 years in jail, he will be released, his family will be paid, he will be paid and so on," he added. Mr Berezovsky's spokeswoman said he had been informed of the alleged plot three weeks ago and had been advised to leave the country for a week. The Sun claims Britain's security services, MI5 and MI6, intercepted intelligence about the plot and the hitman was seized within the last two weeks. Neither police or security officials have commented on the allegations. The Sun's political editor, George Pascoe-Watson, said it was not clear what had happened to the alleged hitman. "The security surrounding this case is so incredibly tight because of the diplomatic ramifications that we have not yet established where he's been taken, whether or not he's been charged, what the situation is," he told BBC One's Breakfast.

'No involvement'

Russia's ambassador to the UK, Yuri Fedotov, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme there was "nothing that could confirm" the plot. Asked if the Russian government was involved, he said: "It is excluded." The claims come after Britain expelled four Russian diplomats in the escalating row over the murder of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko. Moscow has refused to hand over the man suspected of the murder - Andrei Lugovoi, another former KGB agent. Mr Lugovoi denies involvement. Russia says it is planning a "targeted and appropriate" response to the expulsions, adding that its constitution prevents it from extraditing its citizens to face trial in another country. Speaking on BBC2's Newsnight on Tuesday, Mr Berezovsky urged Mr Lugovoi to submit himself for trial in a third country like Germany, Denmark or Norway. Mr Berezovsky added: "Maybe the Russian constitution is against [extradition] but Lugovoi personally, if he wants to clear the situation, he is able to travel anywhere he wants if he feels he is not guilty." Mr Fedotov later told the BBC Britain's decision to halt contact with Russia's Federal Security Service would harm its fight against terror. "So by stopping these contacts, the British authorities are punishing themselves," he said.

Response 'considered'

A full statement is expected from Moscow, which has warned Britain to expect "serious consequences". But the Foreign Office said it had set out its position, adding: "No retaliation on Russia's behalf is justified." Prime Minister Gordon Brown's official spokesman said any formal response from Moscow would be "considered carefully". Mr Litvinenko died of exposure to radioactive polonium-210 in London in November 2006. The radioactive isotope used to poison him was found in several places that Mr Lugovoi had visited in London. But Mr Lugovoi told Russian television that the outcome of the inquiry had been predetermined. Under the European Convention on Extradition 1957, Russia has the right to refuse the extradition of a citizen. The UK has the right to request Mr Lugovoi be tried in Russia, but the UK's director of public prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald, has already turned down the offer. He recommended Mr Lugovoi be tried for murder by "deliberate poisoning".

The Associated Press reports that British authorities have already made an arrest. LR dares to wonder how long it will be before the crazed Russophiles try to claim that Berezovsky paid to have himself assassinated just so he could laugh at Putin from the grave.

Police said Wednesday they had arrested a man suspected of plotting to kill Boris Berezovsky, the exiled Russian tycoon and vehement Kremlin critic who is one of the key figures in the escalating tensions between Moscow and London. The Metropolitan Police said the man was arrested June 21 and turned over to immigration authorities two days later. The police did not further identify the man and British immigration officials declined to comment; the Russian Embassy said it had not been notified of such an arrest.

The police statement came hours after Berezovsky said he had fled the country for about a week in mid-June after police warned him his life was in danger. Berezovsky was a close associate of Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent who was killed in London last year with a dose of the radioactive isotope polonium-210. Litvinenko, also a harsh Kremlin critic who had received asylum in Britain, alleged in a deathbed statement that Russian President Vladimir Putin was behind his poisoning. Britain named Andrei Lugovoi, a Russian businessman and former KGB agent, as a suspect in the Litvinenko murder and demanded his extradition. Russia refused, saying it is constitutionally prohibited. Britain on Monday said it would expel four Russian diplomats in response to the extradition refusal, and Moscow threatened unspecified strong measures in return.

The dispute marks a new low in Russia-Britain relations, which already had been troubled by Russia's opposition to the war in Iraq, by Britain's refusal to extradite Berezovsky to face embezzlement charges and by Moscow's allegation last year of spying by British diplomats. The alleged plot against Berezovsky is likely to increase widespread suspicion that Russian agents are aiming to wipe out prominent political foes abroad. Russian agents killed a top Chechen separatist leader in 2004 in Qatar, and Russia later passed a law authorizing its forces to act against enemies overseas. "I am happy that the British are very strong in protecting people," Berezovsky told the British Broadcasting Corp. "I don't have any chance to be alive, if not for the protection of the state which gave me asylum."

There was no confirmation that the alleged assassination plot was connected with Berezovsky's dissident views. He is one of the richest of the so-called "oligarchs" who amassed gargantuan wealth in shadowy privatization deals after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Berezovsky says he would be willing to face the Russian charges against him if the trial were held in a neutral country's court, and he has suggested Lugovoi consider a similar arrangement. Russia has made no official response to that idea and Britain openly dismisses it. "We want the trial to be in a British court, on British soil," said Michael Ellam, the spokesman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Europe Minister Jim Murphy told the Foreign Affairs select committee Wednesday that Britain had made a targeted and measured response to Russia. Britain's refusal to extradite Berezovsky, who was granted British citizenship after fleeing Russia, has long angered the Kremlin.

The Foreign Office said in a document Wednesday that relations with Moscow have been "overshadowed by tensions" over asylum granted to Russian dissidents. Moscow has not "fully accepted that these questions are matters of law, not of politics or diplomacy," said the document, prepared by officials as part of a parliamentary inquiry into Russian-British relations. Berezovsky, a one-time Kremlin insider who has fallen out with Putin, said Wednesday he fled Britain briefly last month because British intelligence services told him his life was in danger. "I was informed by Scotland Yard that there was a plot to kill me, and they recommended to me to leave the country," Berezovsky told The Associated Press. He said he left Britain for about a week and returned when informed the plot had been foiled. Berezovsky was granted political asylum in Britain in 2003. His visibility has increased since Litvinenko's murder. Scotland Yard confirmed Berezovsky's remarks, saying they had arrested a man on suspicion of conspiring to murder the tycoon on June 21. Police said the suspect was handed over to immigration officials two days later. "Berezovsky is a very high-profile critic of the Putin regime, and history does show that it would appear that the Russians are prepared to take action against their critics abroad," said a MI5 domestic intelligence agency official, who demanded anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence work. The official could not say whether British intelligence services believe Russia has tried to attack dissidents in London since Litvinenko's murder. But the official confirmed that about 30 Russian spies are believed to be based in London to monitor exiles in the city.

Russian Ambassador Yury Fedotov told BBC radio said the alleged plot to assassinate Berezovsky was "quite strange information, and I have nothing that could confirm it." He alleged Berezovsky is linked "to many criminal international schemes of money laundering, corruption and organized crime." Berezovsky said he first learned of the plot through contacts within Russia's Federal Security Service, the successor agency to the KGB. "They told me that someone I knew would come and kill me openly and present it as a business matter. He would say there was a disagreement over the business," he said.

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