MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has expelled Britain’s top commercial and trade diplomat as part of its retaliation in a continuing row over the extradition of a murder suspect, the Moscow Times newspaper reported on Thursday.
The English-language daily reported that Andrew Levi, minister counselor for economic affairs at the British Embassy in Moscow, was the highest ranking of the four British diplomats asked to leave by the Foreign Ministry last week.
“Multiple sources close to Levi…have confirmed that he is one of the four and is due to leave the country on Sunday,” the newspaper reported.
Levi was not answering his office telephone on Thursday and the British embassy would not say whether the report of his expulsion was true.
Russia expelled four British diplomats in a tit-for-tat response to Britain’s ejection of four Russian envoys. London took that action to show its displeasure at Moscow’s refusal to extradite a suspect in the murder of emigre spy Alexander Litvinenko, who became a British citizen after quitting Russia.
“We are not going to comment at all on the identities of those to be expelled,” British ambassador Anthony Brenton told Reuters.
Britain and Russia both said at the time of the diplomats’ expulsions that they did not want to harm their flourishing trade and investment relationship and Brenton reiterated this.
“The important thing in this is where Russia-UK relations go next,” he said. “Our firm intention is that our booming economic relationship continues to boom.”
Levi had a background in energy issues and the Moscow Times said he had been involved in dealing with problems faced by British oil companies in Russia.
These included Royal Dutch Shell’s tug-of-war with the Kremlin over its $22 billion Sakhalin natural gas project. Shell and its Japanese partners were forced to sell a controlling stake to Russia’s state gas monopoly Gazprom.
The Moscow Times said Levi’s expulsion was evidence that the diplomatic row between Russia and Britain was starting to spill over into economic relations but diplomatic sources in Moscow said this was not the case.
“You can draw all sorts of conclusions by looking at the list of those to be expelled but the conclusion drawn by the Moscow Times is wrong,” one source said.