Russian President says British calls for Lugovoi extradition are 'stupidity' or "PR"

Russian President Vladimir Putin  has made a new sensational statement, saying that Britain's call for the extradition of a suspect in the killing of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko was "stupidity.”

Putin's harsh characterization is likely to further trouble British-Russian relations that already have hit a post-Cold War low amid the controversy over the killing. Litvinenko died in London in November from poisoning by a rare radioactive isotope.

Britain last month said it had enough evidence to charge Russian businessman Andrei Lugovoi in the killing and asked for his extradition. Lugovoi, who is also a former KGB member, had met with Litvinenko shortly before he fell ill.

Litvinenko fled in 2000 to Britain, where he received citizenship and became a vocal Kremlin critic. He co-authored a book alleging the KGB's main successor, the FSB, was involved in fatal apartment bombings in 1999 that Russia blamed on Chechen rebels and cited as justification for resuming the war in that separatist region.

Putin said British officials should have known that Russia's constitution would prevent the extradition.

"From whatever side you look at this problem, there's one stupidity," Putin said in an interview with journalists from Group of Eight countries ahead of this week's G-8 summit in Germany.

"If they didn't know (about the constitutional prohibition) it's a low level of competence and thus we have doubts about what they're doing there," Putin said, according to a transcript released by the Kremlin. "And if they knew and did this, it's simply politics.

"This is bad and that is bad - from all sides it's the same stupidity," Putin said.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair, asked about Putin's criticism, said only "we haven't had a formal response."

Although Scotland Yard investigators came to Russia in December to look into the killing, they were not allowed to question figures themselves and only were able to sit in on interrogations conducted by Russian investigators. That raised concerns about Russia's willingness to cooperate in the case.

Many observers have suggested that the Kremlin either ordered or gave tacit approval to Litvinenko's killing to punish a renegade agent and visible critic. But many Russian officials and news media have speculated that he was killed by Putin opponents in order to tarnish the president's image.

Lugovoi last week claimed Litvinenko was working for British intelligence and proposed several theories about his death - including that it was ordered by exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, purportedly because Litvinenko may have had evidence that Berezovsky received asylum in Britain under false pretenses.

Russia sent investigators to Britain to interview Berezovsky, exiled Chechen separatist envoy Akhmed Zakayev and other figures as part of a parallel investigation into Litvinenko's death.

Russia has sought the extraditions of Berezovsky and Zakayev repeatedly and Putin in the interview lashed out at London's refusal to turn them over.

"The British authorities have allowed a significant number of rogues, swindlers and terrorists to gather on their territory, they've created conditions which raise the danger for the lives and health of British subjects and all the responsibility for this lies with the British side," he said.

Putin echoed other Russian officials' statements that Lugovoi could be tried at home if Britain presents sufficient evidence.