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Coalition 'must stand up to Russia'

The coalition Government has been called on to stand up to Russia after it was described in US cables as a "virtual mafia state".

Former Labour Europe minister Denis MacShane (Rotherham) said the Government should not be afraid to compromise its strategic relationship with Russia if it meant voicing its concerns about prime minister Vladimir Putin's administration.

In the latest documents released on WikiLeaks, US assistant secretary of state Daniel Fried, said the killing of former spy Alexander Litvinenko in London could have been linked to "rogue elements" in the Russian security forces.

He added Putin may well have known about the operation to murder Mr Litvinenko in 2006 while elsewhere in the cables published by WikiLeaks, the activities of the Russian government and organised crime are described as indistinguishable.

Mr MacShane called on Sir George Young, Commons Leader, to allow for a debate on the "rule of law in Russia".

Mr MacShane said: "You will have seen the reports of concern at the highest levels of US Government about the state of affairs in Russia: kleptocracy, mafia, state funds linked to crime.

"We really have to raise our voice more loudly about the awful things going on in Russia whatever our geo-political needs for strategic partnership with Mr Putin may be."

In response, Sir George said the US cables had the potential to destabilise relations between countries.

He said: "I can't promise a debate but in connection to what has been coming out through WikiLeaks, the Government deplores any unauthorised disclosure of information particularly if, as the Americans have alleged, it may lead to the risk of loss of life."

Sir George was then pressed by Labour's Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire N) who said the leaks could have "serious implications" for the UK's armed forces.

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