Envoy turned away from Russian nuclear facility

Friday, July 25, 2008

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The British ambassador to Moscow and two of his diplomats were refused entry to a UK-funded nuclear fuel storage facility in Russia when they turned up on a scheduled visit, an embassy spokesman said on Friday.

Ambassador Anthony Brenton was in the Arctic port of Murmansk on Thursday to visit a British navy ship that was there to take part in a Russian Naval Day celebration.

He scheduled a parallel visit to the Atomflot facility, to which Britain has provided 23 million pounds as part of the Global Partnership programme aimed at ensuring safe storage of spent nuclear fuel.

Russian news agency Interfax said Atomflot officials confirmed they had turned away Ambassador Brenton, a diplomatic military attache and a consular official.

"The diplomats were not admitted to the restricted-access facility. Why? That is not a question for us. It is not our prerogative, but one for the competent authorities, they decide whom to admit and whom not to," Interfax quoted an Atomflot source as saying.

The source did not say who the "competent authorities" were.

The British embassy spokesman said the ambassador "found the exclusion profoundly surprising".

Ties between London and Moscow are at a low ebb, partly because of Russia's refusal to extradite a former KGB agent wanted for trial in Britain for the murder in London of a Russian critic of the Kremlin who had taken British citizenship.

Both countries have expelled diplomats, and regional offices of the government's cultural arm, the British Council, have been forced to close.

In 2007, activists from the pro-Kremlin youth organisation Nashi launched a campaign against Brenton, picketing his embassy and venues at which he was expected to appear, interrupting his speeches and banging their fists on his diplomatic car.

Brenton said through the embassy spokesman that Atomflot's refusal to let Brenton's delegation in was not helpful to improving relations.

"This must raise serious questions over the UK's continuing involvement in this sphere," he said.

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