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Terry Macalister, Ian Cobain, Simon Tisdall23 Apr 2007 00:00
Relations between London and Moscow threatened to plummet to a post-Cold War low on Thursday amid renewed Russian demands for action against Boris Berezovsky over the tycoon’s claim that he is plotting to overthrow Vladimir Putin.
The Russian ambassador to the United Kingdom warned that bilateral relations would inevitably suffer if prompt action was not taken against the Britain-based multi-millionaire, who said in an interview that he was fomenting a revolution to topple Putin by force.
It also emerged that British authorities have begun a second inquiry into Berezovsky’s comments, with the UK Home Office’s border and immigration agency investigating whether they could undermine his refugee status. Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command is already assessing whether he breached anti-terrorism laws by inciting a coup.
But it was the remarks of the Russian ambassador, Yury Fedotov, that will have alarmed Downing Street at a time when ministers and senior officials are concerned about Russia’s assertiveness on the international stage.
Fedotov said he had sent a letter to John Reid, the home secretary, underlining the seriousness with which the issue was viewed in Moscow.
He also enclosed a copy of a warrant for the arrest of Berezovsky signed by Yury Chaika, the Russian prosecutor general.
The dispute could have a serious impact on bilateral relations, analysts said. Moscow is at odds with Britain on many issues, including how best to curb Iran’s suspect nuclear programme and plans to grant Kosovo independence.
Tensions also surround British-backed Western efforts to promote democratic institutions in countries of the post-Soviet “near abroad” such as Georgia and Ukraine, United States-led plans for European missile defence, and Nato’s eastward expansion. “The Russians are already causing trouble across the board. This could just make them behave even worse,” one former official said.—Â
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