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Russia goes tit-for-tat with Britain and expels four British diplomats too

Spokesmen for the Russian administration announced Thursday that Russia intends to expel four British diplomats in a tit-for-tat response as confrontation mounted over the poisoning of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko.

Britain had announced on Monday the expulsion of four Russian diplomats and restrictions on visas issued to Russian government officials after Moscow refused to hand over Andrei Lugovoi, accused of killing Litvinenko in London.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin announced the expulsions Thursday after notification was provided to the British ambassador, who was summoned to the ministry earlier in the day.

He described Russia's response as "targeted, balanced and the minimum necessary."

Kamynin also said Russia would stop issuing visas to British officials and seeking British visas for Russian officials. He said Russia would halt counterterrorism cooperation with Britain.

"To our regret, cooperation between Russia and Britain on issues of fighting terrorism becomes impossible," he said.

Kamynin said the interests of tourists and businessmen would not be hurt. He said that on visa issues Russia would mirror Britain's actions from now on.

British Ambassador Anthony Brenton said he met with Kamynin's deputy, Alexander Grushko. "We of course discussed the Litvinenko case. He gave me several notices for me to pass on to London. I won't comment on the contents," Brenton said, according to the Interfax news agency.

Grushko on Tuesday called the British moves "a direct path to confrontation and narrowing of the opportunities for interaction with Russia on a wide spectrum of issues." He said Russia would inform Britain very soon of its response, while Britain said that retaliation would not be justified.

Litvinenko, a fierce Kremlin critic, died Nov. 23 after ingesting radioactive polonium-210, and blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin on his deathbed.