Pringle Stands Firm On Litvinenko Case

London will not soften its position on the murder case of Alexander Litvinenko and will seek to resolve the lingering conflict over the British Council's activities here, Britain's new ambassador to Russia said Thursday.

Britain will continue to press for the extradition of State Duma Deputy Andrei Lugovoi, accused of killing Litvinenko in 2006, but hopes that cooperation will prevail in London's troubled relations with Moscow, Ambassador Anne Pringle told reporters at the British Embassy. Lugovoi is suspected of poisoning Litvinenko in London, and Russia's refusal to extradite him led to a tit-for-tat expulsion of diplomats last year.

Pringle rejected Russian prosecutors' claims that Britain has provided insufficient evidence to implicate Lugovoi in the crime.

"We have provided already significant evidence," she said, "... sufficient for his extradition."

This year also saw the forced closure of several British Council offices in Russia. Pringle said she hoped that the council, the embassy's cultural arm, could reopen in Russian regions once an agreement over its legal status is reached.

Pringle's predecessor, Tony Brenton, has described his four-year posting in Moscow as "bumpy," having faced harassment by the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi, which accused him of consorting with "extremists" by meeting with Russian opposition groups.

Pringle, who took over for Brenton just 10 days ago, said constructive cooperation with government officials and business leaders was a priority but that she did not know if her tenure would be smoother than her predecessor's.

"I have no crystal ball," she said.

Pringle, who addressed reporters in methodical, grammatically sound Russian as well as in English with a marked Scottish accent, was coy about whether she felt she had been posted to a democratic country. While Russia "has institutions and procedures that allow it to develop in a democratic way, if it chooses to do so," concerns remain in areas such as fair elections, press freedoms and human rights, Pringle said.

She added, however, that she hoped for an open and constructive debate and stressed that her job "is not to try to read moral lectures."

In another conciliatory note, Pringle rejected the notion that her government was seeking to exclude Russia from the Group of Eight.

She added, however, that other G8 countries would also continue to meet without Moscow in the G7 format.

"Generally, in times of difficulties in relationships, one should seek to continue to talk to the other side rather than isolate them," Pringle said.

In a sign that she was taking her predecessor's advice, Pringle announced that she would head to Khanty-Mansiisk directly after Thursday's briefing.

Brenton told The Moscow Times in a recent interview that his successor should visit the country's regions instead of just staying in Moscow.