Miliband met by icy reception on debut mission to Moscow

Strained relations evident as Russia once again refuses Foreign Secretary's request to extradite Litvinenko suspect

David Miliband's demands that the man suspected of involvement in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko be extradited to London were again refused by the Russian government in high-level talks in Moscow yesterday.

The British Foreign Secretary's trip was the highest-ranking official British visit to Russia in years. But his Russian counterparty, Sergey Lavrov, made it clear that Mr Miliband's efforts to secure the extradition of the former security agent and current MP Andrei Lugovoi, as well as to make progress on a range of other issues that plague bilateral relations, would come to naught.

Mr Lugovoi is suspected of playing a role in the radioactive polonium poisoning of Mr Litvinenko, a former Russian security agent, in 2006.

"I suspect that our British counterparts are aware of the fact that a demand to change our constitution is not realistic," Mr Lavrov said, in a reference to Russia's argument that its law forbids extradition of citizens.

Relations between the two countries have been particularly strained since Mr Litvinenko's murder. But a range of other sticking points remain. Britain is still aggrieved by the closure of regional offices of the British Council, which President Dmitry Medvedev has accused of being a front for British spies, while the Russians are frustrated at the refusal of the British courts to extradite a number of Kremlin opponents living in Britain.

As Mr Miliband and Mr Lavrov met yesterday there was pointedly no talk of "pressing the reset button" with Russia in the same way that the administration of Barack Obama has done since the US President took office. It was instead made clear that the important differences between the countries would not simply go away, but that focus should be put on the areas – most notably the economy – where common interests are aligned.

Not only does Britain have the worst relationship with Russia of any major Western country, but there is also little love lost between the two ministers themselves. Mr Lavrov was alleged to have subjected Mr Miliband to an obscenity-filled tirade over the telephone, shortly after Russia's war with Georgia last year.

This visit was played as an attempt to move on and find areas where co-operation is possible, such as trade links and co-ordinating action over Iran's nuclear programme, Afghanistan and nuclear disarmament.

"Our discussions have been marked by mutual respect; personal, but also between our countries," said Mr Miliband. "Not only do we understand each other better, but we are going to find ways to work together better."

Nevertheless, the differences were there for all to see. The two ministers discussed the Litvinenko case at length, but it was clear that a mutually acceptable solution will not be found. Mr Lavrov, besides noting Britain's "unrealistic" demands, again suggested that Mr Lugovoi could be tried in Russia with the involvement of British law enforcement agencies, if Britain were to send Russia the required evidence. Mr Miliband insisted that British prosecutors had already sent their Russian counterparts all the materials necessary for them to co-operate, while Mr Lavrov retorted that this was not the case.

Analysts in Moscow said that Russian officials have little time for Mr Miliband, given his history of harsh words about Russia and vocal support for Georgia and Ukraine's entry into Nato. They expect a more conciliatory approach to be forthcoming from a potential future Conservative government.

The visit was unfortunately timed to coincide with the third anniversary of Mr Litvinenko's poisoning, which prompted angry words from his widow, Marina. "The fact remains that a British citizen was murdered in the centre of London in a state-sponsored act of nuclear terrorism," she said in a statement released last month. "The apparent softening of Mr Miliband's position is a great disappointment to me."

In addition to meeting Mr Lavrov, Mr Miliband met Mikhail Gorbachev, and also did the rounds of the few independent media outlets remaining in Russia, giving an interview to Ekho Moskvy radio and Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper where the murdered reporter Anna Politkovskaya worked.

Britain and Russia: Diplomatic incidents

*January 2006: The FSB accuses British diplomats of using a fake rock planted on a Moscow street to hold secret data.

*December 2006: Britain complains that ambassador Anthony Brenton has been subjected to harassment "bordering on violence" after he addressed an opposition meeting.

*April 2007: Russia renewed their request for extradition of tycoon Boris Berezovsky, an enemy of Vladimir Putin, but the requests were denied. Mr Berezovsky was granted political asylum in September 2003.

*May 2007: Britain makes first formal extradition request for Andrei Lugovoi over the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. Russia turns it down.

*January 2008: Russia demands British Council offices close after a tax dispute. Ultimately only one remains open.

*June 2009: Ongoing tensions are exemplified by David Miliband's warning that Russia "needs to change course".

John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage

Watch this commuter make a mad 320-metre, 75-step dash to work
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK edition of wedding show forced to recast after wave of drop-outs
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise

Top conservatoire offers ‘groundbreaking’ arts degree

Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistants

£50 - £85 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Rapidly developing and growing ...

Supply Teachers needed in Stowmarket

£1034496 - £1516224 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: The Job:Randstad ...

Primary Teacher EYFS, KS1 and KS2

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are urgentl...

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week