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Diplomatic crisis over poisoned Russian spy

Russia vows 'proportionate' response to Britain's expulsion of four diplomats.

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Escalating from murder mystery into international cause célèbre, the scandal surrounding ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko's fatal poisoning exploded this week into a full cold war-style diplomatic crisis between Russia and Britain, overshadowing all other aspects of an increasingly troubled relationship.

British Foreign Secretary David Milliband said Monday that four Russian diplomats will be expelled as a demonstration of how seriously London takes the Kremlin's refusal to hand over Andrei Lugovoi, the chief suspect in Mr. Litvinenko's death last November, to stand trial in Britain.

"Given the importance of this issue and Russia's failure to cooperate to find a solution, we need an appropriate response," Mr. Milliband said. "Our aims are clear: First, to advance our judicial process; second to bring home to the Russian government the consequences of their failure to cooperate; and third, to emphasize our commitment to promoting the safety of British citizens and visitors."

On Tuesday, Russia denounced Britain's move as "an attempt to punish us for adhering to our own Constitution," which forbids extraditions, and said it put the two countries on a direct path to confrontation. Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Grushko promised a carefully targeted and proportionate response "in the near future," which experts speculate could extend to British-linked businesses and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Russia.

"A matter that was originally in the juridical sphere is now thoroughly politicized," says Alexei Gromyko, head of the Center for British Studies, an official Moscow think tank. "There is a danger that, due to these events, we may see some spread of negative emotions toward [Britain] within Russia."

Fresh allegations against Lugovoi

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