This piece of mine appears on the Guardian's Comment is Free website
Bear-baiting in Britain was banned nearly 200 years ago. Someone obviously didn't tell Britain's new Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who yesterday ordered the expulsion of four Russian diplomats from Britain. Miliband is annoyed that Russia refuses to extradite ex-KGB agent Andrei Lugovoi, wanted to stand trial for the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. But Russia is also annoyed that Britain repeatedly refuses to extradite the billionaire oligarch Boris Berezovsky, charged with embezzling millions of dollars from the Russian national airline Aeroflot. (A trial of the Aeroflot case started in Berezovsky's absence in Moscow last week.)
Those who believe the charges against Berezovsky are politically motivated should reflect that the same man is also wanted by the authorities in Brazil for alleged money laundering. To claim that the Brazilian authorities' arrest warrant was "an extension of the Kremlin's politicised campaign" as Berezovsky has done, is clearly absurd.
Rather than indulging in moves that can only make the situation worse, the British foreign secretary should instead be on the telephone to President Putin, to make him an offer. The terms would be simple: Alexander Lugovoi is sent on the next plane from Moscow to London to stand trial for the murder in Britain, while Berezovsky is flown out to Rio to answer the charges against him in Brazil. This might be bad news for Bell Pottinger Public Affairs, Lord Tim Bell's PR company which has represented Mr Berezovksy and the oligarch's defenders in the British press but in the interests of both justice - and British-Russian relations - it is the only solution that makes any sense. Berezovsky's supporters have long argued that their man would not receive a fair trial in Putin's Russia. But what possible objections can they have to Berezovsky facing the rap in Brazil? Do they believe that the billionaire has a divine right never to appear in a court of law anywhere? It surely cannot be right that a single individual of, shall we say, controversially acquired wealth and who has called openly for the forceful overthrow of his country's elected government is allowed to sour relations between Britain and Russia, to the great detriment of both countries.
Of course Berezovsky and his influential supporters would much prefer if the British government carried on expelling Russian diplomats and in doing so provoke a new cold war with the Kremlin. But bear-baiting has already been banned once. As a serious policy option, it's time it was kicked into touch once again.
UPDATE: Surprise, surprise: Boris Berezovsky's right-hand man Alex Goldfarb has been handed over the opinion page in the Daily Telegraph today to denounce Moscow's line.