updated 6/4/2007 3:30:17 PM ET 2007-06-04T19:30:17

Britain’s call for the extradition of a suspect in the killing of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko is “stupidity,” President Vladimir Putin said in an interview released Monday.

Putin’s harsh characterization is likely to further trouble British-Russian relations that already have hit a post-Cold War low in the case of Litvinenko, who died in London in November from poisoning by a rare radioactive isotope.

Britain last month said it had enough evidence to charge Andrei Lugovoi, a Russian businessman and former KGB member who had met with Litvinenko shortly before he fell ill, in the killing and asked for his extradition. Russian officials say the constitution prevents such extraditions.

Putin said British officials should have known that Russia’s constitution would prevent the extradition.

“From whatever side you look at this problem, there’s only stupidity,” Putin said in an interview with journalists from Group of Eight countries ahead of this week’s G-8 summit in Germany.

“If they didn’t know (about the constitutional prohibition) it’s a low level of competence and thus we have doubts about what they’re doing there,” Putin said, according to a transcript released by the Kremlin. “And if they knew and did this, it’s simply politics.

“This is bad and that is bad — from all sides it’s the same stupidity,” Putin said.

Blair rejects Putin claim
A spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair rejected Putin’s criticism and said Russia has not formally responded to the extradition request.

“Murder is anything but foolish. Murder has to be taken very seriously,” Blair’s spokesman said on condition of anonymity, in line with government policy.

“The evidence which we have put forward and which the Russians are aware of is very serious. And therefore it should be responded to in a serious way and we await a formal Russian response,” he said.

Lugovoi has said Litvinenko was working for MI6, the British foreign intelligence agency, and that British intelligence may have had a hand in the slaying.

Lugovoi has claimed Litvinenko tried to recruit him to work for MI6 and to gather compromising materials about Putin and his family. He also claimed exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky — a friend of Litvinenko’s and a fellow Kremlin critic — was working for British intelligence.

Lugovoi also suggested that Berezovsky may have been behind Litvinenko’s killing, purportedly for having evidence that Berezovsky had received asylum under false pretenses. Berezovsky has denied the allegations.

MI6 denies involvement
British intelligence officials have dismissed the allegations by Lugovoi that Litvinenko, a fierce Putin critic, worked for them.

Russia sent investigators to Britain to interview Berezovsky, exiled Chechen separatist envoy Akhmed Zakayev and other figures as part of a parallel investigation into Litvinenko’s death.

Russia has repeatedly sought the extraditions of Berezovsky and Zakayev, and Putin in the interview lashed out at London’s refusal to turn them over.

“The British authorities have allowed a significant number of rogues, swindlers and terrorists to gather on their territory, they’ve created conditions which raise the danger for the lives and health of British subjects and all the responsibility for this lies with the British side,” he said.

Putin echoed other Russian officials’ statements that Lugovoi could be tried at home if Britain presents sufficient evidence.

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