Putin 'could sue UK for slander' over Litvinenko murder claims
Russia may sue the British government for slander over comments made in the wake of the inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, the country's foreign minister has said.
Sergei Lavrov said Robert Owen's inquiry, which concluded that Vladimir Putin probably sanctioned FSB agents to murder Mr Litvinenko in London in 2006, would "seriously complicate" ties with London.
"Serious accusations have been laid at the door of the Russian leadership, without any evidence whatsoever being presented," Mr Lavrov said during his annual press conference.
"If one hired a decent lawyer and analysed these facts and the statements that have been made by the leadership of the British government, I think one could well find plenty of grounds for slander," Mr Lavrov said.
"David Cameron said he was 'shocked' and that it confirmed earlier findings.
"This is similar to what the Americans say about the Malaysian Boeing over Ukraine, where they say we await the final report, but we know what happened," he said, in a reference to the fate of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.
"I can only agree with what the British Foreign Office has said: that the Litvinenko case will further seriously complicate our relationship," he said. "Only not the Litvinenko case, but the spectacle created around it."
Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB officer and vocal critic of Mr Putin, died of polonium poisoning in London in 2006.
A public inquiry led by Mr Owen, a former judge, concluded last week that Litvinenko was murdered by two Russian citizens, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, as part of an FSB operation "probably" sanctioned by Mr Putin.
The Kremlin has denied the allegations, calling them a politicised "joke". Mr Lavrov said that the inquiry's inclusion of secret evidence delivered in closed courts, its use of the word "probably" and open reliance on circumstantial evidence made it "unprecedented in jurisprudence".
Mr Lavrov was speaking at a wide-ranging annual press conference in which he also said he would like to "reset" relations between Russian and the United States, and denied reports that Moscow had asked Bashar al-Assad to step down as president of Syria.