The Kremlin has rebuked the results of a British probe into the fatal poisoning of ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko. The UK inquiry found that Russian President Vladimir Putin "probably approved" the killing.
Following the release of the investigation's findings on Thursday, Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, slammed the findings.
"The fact that an open public inquiry is based on the classified data of special services, unnamed special services, and that the verdict which has been made on the basis of this flimsy data has been made public, with the copious use of the words 'probably' and 'likely'," could be "attributed to fine British humor," Peskov told reporters.
"Maybe this is a joke," he said, adding that such a "quasi-inquiry" could only "add more poison to the atmosphere of our bilateral ties."
"Such terminology is not allowed in our judicial practice nor is it allowed in the judicial practice of other countries and certainly cannot be deemed by us as a verdict in any of its parts," the spokesman said.
Putin 'probably approved' poisoning
Among the explosive allegations released by UK judge Robert Owen is the claim that Russian President Vladimir Putin "probably approved" the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko's (pictured above) tea with radioactive polonium in London in 2006.
"The FSB (Russian security agency) operation to kill Litvinenko was probably approved by ... President Putin," Owen from London's High Court on Thursday.
Litvinenko, once a member of Putin's inner circle, broke with the Russian leader in 2000 and fled to England. There he became an outspoken critic of the Kremlin under Putin and is said to have provided information to British intelligence services.
The report also claims that Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, both ex-KGB agents themselves, administered the fatal polonium-210 isotope at a London hotel, under the pretense of meeting up with old colleagues.
Both have long denied the charges, which began circulating soon after Litvinenko's death. Lugovoi has even gone so far as to blame British intelligence agents for the incident. Moscow, for its parts, has refused to extradite them.
According to the Russian news agency Interfax, Lugovoi described Judge Owen's findings as "absurd."
Blow to Russia-UK ties
The allegations against Putin are likely to deliver a huge blow to the already strained ties between London and Moscow, with the UK having already said that it was preparing to implement sanctions against Moscow, such as assets freezes for Lugovoi and Kovtun, if the refusal to extradite them continues. The British government has also summoned the Russian ambassador to London over the report.
Putin's spokesman played down the possible fallout on Thursday, however, saying that London's summoning of a Russian ambassador was "normal diplomatic practice" and that Moscow would seek to answer any questions in connection with the findings.
ksb/kms (AP, AFP, Reuters)