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World News

UK and Russia in tit-for-tat diplomat expulsions

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain said on Tuesday it had expelled a diplomat from Russia’s embassy in London for espionage and that Russia had responded in kind.

These were the first such expulsions since 2007, when a row broke out over the killing in London of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko with a rare radioactive isotope. Russia refuses to extradite a lawmaker whom Britain wants to try for the killing.

The latest spat undermines efforts by Britain’s new coalition government to forge a better relationship with Russia.

Britain said it requested the expulsion of the Russian diplomat on December10 after “clear evidence” of Russian intelligence service activities against British interests.

Russia requested the removal of the British diplomat on December 16, Britain said. Both diplomats had now been withdrawn, it added in a written ministerial statement.

Earlier this month Moscow accused Britain of “paranoid spymania” and hinted that the arrest of a Russian aide to a British member of parliament could set back efforts to improve relations with London.

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The Russian Foreign Ministry attacked the handling of the case of Katia Zatuliveter, 25, an aide to a Liberal Democrat on the British parliament’s defense committee. The Sunday Times newspaper reported earlier that she was suspected of espionage.

The rift between the two countries dates back to Litvinenko’s murder in 2006.

RECENT THAW

But there had been recent signs of a thaw with the British government which took power in May. Prime Minister David Cameron last month accepted an invitation to visit Russia next year and his Foreign Secretary William Hague has already been to Moscow.

Relations have been further strained by a conflict between BP and its billionaire Russia-connected partners in the TNK-BP venture, whom the British oil company accused of using connections with Russian authorities to win a row over strategy and management control in 2008.

The dispute saw TNK-BP’s then chief executive Robert Dudley leaving Russia in 2008 under what he described as unprecedented pressure from authorities.

In the same year, the Russian government forced the closure of some of the British Council’s regional offices - the British government’s cultural centers - saying they were not legal.

Additional reporting by Tim Castle; editing by Ralph Boulton

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