The U.K.'s latest moves against Russia are designed to draw the public's attention away from the investigation of the "Litvinenko case," agent-turned-businessman Andrei Lugovoi said Tuesday.
Russia condemned as "Russophobic" the planned expulsion of four diplomats from Britain over Moscow's refusal to extradite a key suspect in the murder of former security officer Alexander Litvinenko in London. Russia called the decision "immoral," warning of an inevitable political backlash after U.K. Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced the move.
"This is being done to divert public opinion from the real investigation that is being conducted by the Russian Prosecutor General's Office and the Federal Security Service (FSB)," Lugovoi said in an interview with Russia Today television.
He said British officials are misleading the public.
"I am convinced that British intelligence is directly involved in stoking this scandal, influencing U.K. officials. I don't know exactly how. Probably through considerations of political expediency," Lugovoi said.
He also said he doubts the independence of the British justice system, and that he also distrusts British investigators.
Moscow is studying London's official position on the expulsion of Russian diplomats over an ongoing extradition dispute to decide on an appropriate response, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
Shares of Russian companies traded on the London Stock Exchange (LSE) fell between 0.3% and 4% on news of the U.K. measures against Russia.
Miliband said Monday negotiations between Russia and the European Union over facilitating the visa regime would be suspended and visa restrictions introduced for Russian officials. A spokesman for the British Embassy in Moscow clarified that the restrictions would not concern tourists or other ordinary citizens.
Lugovoi, who met Litvinenko on the day he fell ill in London, told journalists that London's decision to expel Russian diplomats was a clear attempt to politicize the case.
Litvinenko died in a London hospital in November 2006. British experts said they discovered the radioactive isotope Polonium-210 in his body, but have not yet published an official autopsy report.
Early last week, British prosecutors said they had received Russia's official refusal to extradite Lugovoi, which cited the Russian Constitution as saying Russian citizens could not be handed over to other countries, and proposed trying Lugovoi in Russia if Britain provides sufficient evidence.
Russia in turn wants Britain to extradite two of its own suspects, fugitive tycoon Boris Berezovsky and Chechen emissary Akhmed Zakayev.
London has also refused to cooperate with Russian law enforcement officials on the extradition of Zakayev and Berezovsky.