Russia said UK stopped tracking Litvinenko killers

LONDON (Reuters) - Russia told a U.S. diplomat that it had been tracking the suspected killers of a former KGB agent before his murder in London four years ago, but had been warned off by Britain, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks Saturday.

Alexander Litvinenko, then an officer of Russia's state security service FSB, attends a news conference in Moscow in this November 17, 1998 file picture. REUTERS/Vasily Djachkov/Files (RUSSIA)

Alexander Litvinenko, who lived and worked in Britain, was poisoned in November 2006 using polonium-210, a rare and highly toxic radioactive isotope.

His killing sent relations between Britain and Russia to a post-Cold War low, and London wants Moscow to extradite former KGB bodyguard Andrei Lugovoy to stand trial for murder.

Russia has refused and Lugovoy, who was later elected to the Russian parliament, giving him immunity from prosecution, denies any link to the death.

According to the leaked secret U.S. cable published on the Guardian newspaper website, a Russian official said shortly after Litvinenko’s death that Russia had been tracking the dissident’s assassins and also indicated that the Kremlin had not been involved in the murder.

The memo, dated December 26, 2006, recorded details of a dinner meeting at the U.S. embassy in Paris between Russian Special Presidential Representative Anatoly Safonov and U.S. Ambassador-at-Large Henry Crumpton.

Speaking about the need for bilateral cooperation to tackle terrorism, Safonov “cited the recent events in London -- specifically the murder of a former Russian spy by exposure to radioactive agents -- as evidence of how great the threat remained,” the leaked cable said.

“The implication was that the FOR (Russia) was not involved, although Safonov did not offer any further explanation,” read a comment added by U.S. embassy staff.

Documenting later exchanges between the men, the memo added: “Safonov claimed that Russian authorities in London had known about and followed individuals moving radioactive substances into the city but were told by the British that they were under control before the poisoning took place.”

The memo gave no indication as to Crumpton’s or the U.S. government’s view of Safonov’s comments.

The leaked cable comes days after Russia criticized Britain over its handling of the case of an alleged Russian spy.

Katia Zatuliveter, 25, an aide to a Liberal Democrat lawmaker who sits on parliament’s defense committee, faces deportation after being arrested on suspicion of espionage, a newspaper reported last week.

Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Kevin Liffey