The standoff between Britain and Russia over the November 2006 murder of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko continues with no signs of compromise from either side. A failure to strike a mutually acceptable deal could not only damage relations between the two countries but also cause the overall relationship between Russia and the West to further deteriorate.

Russia and the United States already have been at odds with each other over the U.S. plan to install a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. On July 14, Russia announced that it would suspend its obligations under the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. This arms-control accord limits the number of major weapons, such as combat aircraft, tanks and heavy artillery pieces, that countries may deploy in the area from the Atlantic to the Urals.

On July 16, Britain expelled four Russian diplomats in reaction to Russia’s refusal to extradite former KGB officer Andrei Lugovoy, the only suspect in the polonium-210 poisoning murder of Litvinenko. In a tit-for-tat move, Russia expelled four British diplomats three days later. Britain’s move is understandable, as Litvinenko was a British citizen. Moreover, the murder with polonium-210 constitutes nuclear terrorism. Many citizens were exposed to radiation from the radioactive material.

Suspicions about the murder linger because Litvinenko was no ordinary citizen. In a book, he had contended that a series of Moscow apartment bombings in 1999, which killed more than 200 people, were not the acts of Chechen separatists but of Russia’s Federal Security Service. If true, this would undermine the legitimacy of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who led the second Chechen war following the bombings and consolidated his power.

Russia has refused to extradite Mr. Lugovoy, citing Article 61 of the Russian Constitution, which prohibits extradition of any Russian citizen. Russia may be irritated with NATO’s and the European Union’s encroachment in its traditional sphere of influence. But its refusal to cooperate in the investigation will only deepen suspicions and damage its own interests.

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