The former KGB bodyguard sought in Britain in the killing of former KGB member Alexander Litvinenko was called on by a Russian lawmaker to go to England and defend himself in order to take pressure off Moscow, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported Wednesday.
Britain's announcement Tuesday that it would seek the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi to stand trial in the high-profile killing of Litvinenko with radioactive poison in London puts Russia in a political bind. The Prosecutor-General's office says it will not hand over Lugovoi, saying the constitution prevents such extradition.
But Britain is putting pressure on Russia: a top deputy to Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett summoned the Russian ambassador to seek Moscow's cooperation in the case.
The killing of Litvinenko, a vehement Kremlin critic who had received asylum in Britain, has chilled relations between Moscow and London and raised speculation that the killing was ordered or got tacit approval from the Kremlin.
"I would appeal to Lugovoi personally that he go to England and not create problems. If he is convinced of his innocence, he can fully prove his innocence with the help of a lawyer," deputy Alexei Mitrofanov said at a session of the Duma, the lower house of parliament, RIA-Novosti reported.
Lugovoi, an ex-Russian agent, has denied involvement, saying the accusations are politically motivated.
The prosecutor-general's office has suggested that Lugovoi could be tried in Russia, but it says it would have to examine the evidence from Britain before making that decision.
Critics have questioned the extent of Russian authorities' willingness to cooperate with Britain in solving the killing. Scotland Yard sent investigators to Russia in December in the case, but they were permitted only to sit in on Russian investigators' interrogations and not to ask questions themselves.
Russia meanwhile pursued a parallel probe, sending investigators to Britain to question possible witnesses, including controversial exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky and Chechen separatist envoy Akhmed Zakayev.
Berezovsky and Zakayev, both of whom were part of Litvinenko's circle of contacts, also were granted asylum by Britain. Russia has sought the extradition of both of them.
Amid the pressure on Moscow, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov on Wednesday appeared to suggest that the Kremlin would not take action in the case.
"We have a court, we have a prosecutor's office - independent of the executive power - that I hope will receive official materials" from Britain, Ivanov told a news conference.
Ivanov, seen as one of the most likely successors to President Vladimir Putin in next year's election, played down the potential diplomatic effects.
"I don't see a big connection between the Litvinenko case and the development of Russian-British relations on the whole," Ivanov said.