(Reuters) – A Russian dissident living in Britain interrupted a lecture by Russia’s visiting foreign minister on Tuesday, calling for the release of a jailed tycoon and drawing attention to Moscow’s patchy democracy record.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was speaking at the London School of Economics when dissident Andrei Sidelnikov shouted about the murder of a Kremlin critic in London five years ago.
Russia refuses to extradite Andrei Lugovoy, whom Britain wants to prosecute for the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian state security officer who died in London in 2006 from poisoning by radioactive polonium-210.
“We would like to send gifts to different Russian people in politics. We would like to send English tea …. without polonium-210 to Mr. Lugovoy,” shouted Sidelnikov. “Lugovoy” is also Russian for a type of herbal tea.
An agitated Lavrov jabbed his finger at Sidelnikov, saying he would “guarantee” the gifts would reach their destination.
During their brief exchange, interrupted by laughter from the audience, Sidelnikov also called for the release of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former tycoon convicted of theft and money laundering in a Moscow trial many see as politically motivated.
He added he wanted to send a copy of the constitution to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, saying he wanted to remind him of its contents.
The government has angered Russia by giving political asylum to prominent Kremlin foes. Sidelnikov is himself a well known dissident, who met Litvinenko shortly before he died.
The incident soured a rare visit to Britain by a Russian foreign minister, intended to cement a gradual improvement in relations between the countries after the Litvinenko affair.
Lavrov held talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague, paving the way for a planned visit by Cameron to Russia later this year.
In a symbolic move, they agreed to update the Cold War-era telephone hotline between Cameron’s 10 Downing St. office and the Kremlin, and to look at ways of cooperating in fighting organised crime and countering radicalisation.
Hague raised the issue of Lugovoy with Lavrov, and a spokesman for Cameron said it was one of the barriers to greater cooperation on security between the two countries.
In December, Britain and Russia engaged in tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions reminiscent of Cold War spy rows.
Economic ties are more vibrant. Last month, Britain’s BP and Russia’s state-controlled Rosneft announced a share swap and Arctic exploration deal, underlining the strength of business ties.
By Mohammed Abbas. (Additional reporting by Adrian Croft, Maria Golovnina, Editing by Maria Golovnina)