updated 6/1/2007 11:46:31 AM ET 2007-06-01T15:46:31

Russia’s foreign minister on Friday accused Britain of politicizing the investigation into the poisoning death of a former KGB agent, warning it would strain relations between the two countries.

Sergey Lavrov told reporters that “instead of a professional inquiry, we’re seeing an attempt to turn the criminal case into some sort of a political campaign.”

“It’s having an impact” on the bilateral ties, Lavrov said.

Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service accused a former KGB agent-turned-businessman of killing Alexander Litvinenko and formally requested his extradition. Russia has refused, saying it could prosecute Andrei Lugovoi at home if Britain presented enough evidence.

Renegade member of secret services
Lavrov's remarks follow Lugovoi’s statement Thursday claiming he had evidence that British intelligence services had a hand in the slaying — claims likely to further damage relations between the countries.

Litvinenko, a renegade member of the Russian secret services hated by many former colleagues, died in a London hospital in November after being poisoned with radioactive polonium-210. He accused President Vladimir Putin on his deathbed of being behind his killing — charges the Kremlin has angrily denied.

Lugovoi, a Moscow businessman who met with Litvinenko on Nov. 1 in London, hours before the former agent fell ill, described the British accusations against him as an effort to shift suspicion away from the British spy services, who he said might be implicated in the crime. He offered no evidence, saying he would only give details to Russian investigators.

“It’s hard to get rid of the thought that Litvinenko was an agent who got out of the secret service’s control and was eliminated,” Lugovoi said. “Even if it was not done by the secret service itself, it was done under its control or connivance.”

The British Foreign Office declined comment.

Lugovoi claimed that Litvinenko tried to recruit him to work for MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, and to gather compromising materials about Putin and his family.

The Russian Prosecutor General’s office said it would investigate Lugovoi’s statements as part of its probe of Litvinenko’s killing.

Oleg Kalugin, a former KGB general who lives in the U.S., told The Associated Press that Lugovoi’s story was “ridiculous.”

“Lugovoi was part of this Russian security services team, and they are trying to find stories to cover up the crime that they committed,” he said.

Other agent allegedly close to death
Meanwhile, human rights activists said a former security agent who claimed to have warned Litvinenko that a government-sponsored death squad was targeting him could die of asthma in his Siberian prison if authorities continue refusing to hospitalize him.

Mikhail Trepashkin, a former colonel in the Federal Security Service, the main KGB successor agency, is serving a four-year sentence at a prison colony in the Ural Mountains for revealing state secrets.

Trepashkin’s lawyers and rights activists say that officials’ refusal to hospitalize him has put his life in increasing danger.

“Conditions behind bars jeopardize his life,” said rights activist and Kremlin critic Lev Ponomaryov. “He has bad asthma with allergic complications, and prison doctors stuff him with inadequate drugs.”

Trepashkin, 50, is serving his sentence near the industrial town of Nizhny Tagil, some 750 miles east of Moscow. The prison is near a large industrial plant whose toxic emissions badly aggravated his condition, Ponomaryov said.

Officials have rejected appeals that he be hospitalized or transferred.

In letters released by his lawyers last year, Trepashkin said he had warned Litvinenko about a government-sponsored death squad that intended to kill him and other Kremlin opponents.

Russia’s top prosecutor dismissed the letters as “stupidity” and refused to allow Scotland Yard officials to talk to Trepashkin during a December trip to investigate Litvinenko’s poisoning.

“Trepashkin is a KGB dissident who participated in a democratic movement inside the agency,” said Valentin Gefter, director of the Moscow-based Human Rights Institute. “He fell victim of a typical KGB revenge, and they want to wreck him physically.”

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