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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Britain Ponders Next Step in Standoff

Russia and Britain appeared to be on a diplomatic collision course Wednesday after they traded accusations over the extradition case of former security services officer Andrei Lugovoi.

British sources said they expected an outcome to the standoff in the near future and Malcolm Rifkind, a member of parliament and former foreign minister, said the British electorate would be expecting the government to take a tough stand.

Moscow answered with criticism of what it sees as London's lack of respect for constitutional provisions and shoddy investigative work.

But while the danger of serious damage to bilateral relations between the countries appeared sincere, there were questions about Britain's real options for increasing pressure.

Rifkind himself refused to speculate on what action London could take, but said some kind of nonverbal response was plausible.

"People in Britain are saddened and concerned at the Russian government's refusal to extradite Lugovoi," Rifkind said by telephone Wednesday from London.

"Russia could have tried to explore ways to get around the obstacles," Rifkind added, in reference to the Constitution, which forbids Russia from extraditing its citizens. "Unfortunately, there is no way to force Russia to change its approach."

On Tuesday, the British Foreign Office labeled the lack of cooperation as "unacceptable."

Litvinenko died Nov. 23, three weeks after ingesting a rare radioactive isotope. British prosecutors say he was poisoned during a Nov. 1 meeting with Lugovoi and others at a London hotel.

Ambassador Anthony Brenton handed a request May 28 to the Foreign Ministry for Lugovoi's extradition to face murder charges in Britain. Russia officially refused on July 5, citing the constitutional ban on handing over its citizens.

Lugovoi said Wednesday that the heated reaction was just a smokescreen to cover up unprofessional work by British detectives and that his negative portrayal in Western media would bias any jury.

Government officials also attacked Britain's stance.

"It is strange that a country would be offended by our strict adherence to stipulations of the Constitution," Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov told Vesti-24 television Wednesday, adding that bilateral ties would not be harmed.

Similarly, the Foreign Ministry was "surprised at the British reaction ... especially considering the fact that our position is in complete compliance with Russian law," said ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin, Interfax reported.

The main question for the British side now is what comes next.

David Bentley, a political analyst at British think tank Chatham House and former legal adviser to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said Wednesday that setting visa quotas for Russians or the expulsion of low-level diplomats were among possible measures.

"But it probably won't come to that," Bentley said. "It's far too collateral to the legal issue of extradition," he added.

He added that Britain's current problem was partly of its own making, as the government has been slow to try to push international partners to drop extraditions prohibitions. "The U.K. tolerated that for far too long," Bentley said.

A better idea of what actions Britain might take could be close, as its Foreign Affairs Committee will submit a report on the case to the parliament, the Times of London reported. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office refused Wednesday to comment on the report.

James Nixey, manager of the Russian and Eurasia program at Chatham House, said Wednesday that Britain had "very little leverage" and had been too ready to commit itself to action with the term "unacceptable" on Tuesday.

"Britain will not want to make an international incident out of a smaller, bilateral incident," Nixey said.

"We're not talking about kicking ambassadors out of the country," he said, adding that he saw no real resolution to the situation. He said the entire situation was likely simply to "fizzle out."

Masha Lipman, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, agreed that the case would end in a stalemate. "Russia is making it clear there will be no compromise," Lipman said. "Standing up to demands from the West is very popular among Russian people."

Lipman said the only way Lugovoi would stand trial was if it were held in Russia, and even then the evidence provided by British prosecutors would have to be examined by their Russian counterparts before a decision could be reached about going to trial.