MOSCOW, July 19 (RIA Novosti) - Four British diplomats are to be expelled from Russia in a move mirroring the U.K.'s expulsion of Russian diplomats over Moscow's refusal to extradite a murder suspect, the Foreign Ministry said Thursday.
Earlier in the week, London ordered the Russian diplomats to leave the country, after Moscow gave its official refusal to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, who Scotland Yard suspects of murdering former Russian security officer Alexander Litvinenko in London last November.
"The British ambassador has received a note declaring four employees of the British Embassy personae non-grata, and saying they must leave Moscow within ten days," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said.
The spokesman expressed regret that Moscow had been driven to such a measure, and stressed that Russia is not seeking to aggravate relations with the U.K., a major investor in Russia's economy.
"We are convinced that common sense will ultimately prevail," the spokesman said.
He also said that Russian officials would stop visiting the U.K., as London has now ceased to issue visas to Russian officials over the extradition dispute.
"In connection with the Litvinenko case, it has been announced that we will act reciprocally on all visa issues," Kamynin added.
Russia is also halting joint counter-terrorism efforts with Britain, he said. "The measures announced by London on July 16 regrettably make Russian-British cooperation against terrorism impossible," the spokesman said.
The British foreign secretary lamented Russia's decision to retaliate to London's measures. "We obviously believe that the decision to expel four embassy staff is completely unjustified, and we will be doing everything to ensure that they and their families are properly looked after," David Miliband told journalists.
He also reiterated London's position on Moscow's refusal to extradite Lugovoi. Russia has repeatedly pointed to its Constitution, which forbids the extradition of Russian nationals, and has proposed trying Lugovoi in Russia if Britain provides sufficient evidence.
Miliband said: "We are disappointed that the Russian government should have signaled no new cooperation in the extradition of Mr. Andrei Lugovoi for the alleged murder of Alexander Litvinenko."
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice backed London's position in an interview with SkyNews in Lisbon, ahead of a Mideast Quartet meeting, and urged Moscow to fully cooperate with U.K. authorities, in particular with their demand for Lugovoi's extradition to Britain.