27 июня 2016
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 RUSSO-BRITISH BILATERAL RELATIONS

RUSSO-BRITISH BILATERAL RELATIONS

 

The Relations between Russia and the United Kingdom historically have never been simple. In recent years, our political relationship has been characterised by instability and volatility, by abrupt changes from relatively good to overt hostility. Unfortunately, this appears to reflect the general state of our relations with the historical West. Unable to give up its claim to universal truth in international affairs, London has positioned itself on the cutting edge of such complications.

Nowadays, the Russo-British relations are going through hard times. Whatever positive achievements of recent years, those have been substantially undermined by London's projection of our differences over Ukraine, Crimea and Syria onto bilateral matters.

We have to admit that at the moment Russo-British political dialogue is non-existent. London unilaterally froze all the bilateral formats of Inter-Governmental cooperation which proved their worth: Strategic Dialogue "2+2" with participation of Foreign and Defence Ministers, High Level Energy Dialogue, the Russian-British Inter-Governmental Steering Committee on Trade and Investment, and UK-Russia Joint Committee on Science and Technology. Regular consultations between the foreign ministries have actually ceased.

The British Government engages in hostile rhetoric which makes part of British official documents. For example, "Strategic Defence and Security Review-2015" states that "Russia has become more aggressive, authoritarian and nationalist, increasingly defining itself in opposition to the West" and thus willing "to undermine wider international standards of cooperation in order to secure its perceived interests" (par. 3.19). So, Russia is being blamed for "challenging European security and rule-based international order" (par. 5.45).

The Britain's support of the EU sanctions regime against Russia, strongly criticised by the British entrepreneurs who conduct business in Russia, is not only futile, but counterproductive. Having included in the sanctions list the chairpersons of the Federal Assembly and other representatives of the Russian legislative branch, the British have made it impossible to maintain regular interparliamentary contacts.

Anti-Russian sanctions are now being imposed on our media against the background of the EU talks on "the need to counter Russian propaganda". In early July 2015 the "Barclays" bank froze the account of the "Russia Today" information agency's London office, without any warning. While the British side denies any involvement in the bank's decision, the issue has been lost somewhere between the "Barclays" and the British Treasury.

London is not ready either to drop its sanctions as regards visas for Russian officials, introduced earlier. The British still refuse to fully restore the contacts between special services, which has been damaging for Russo-British counter-terrorism cooperation.

The "Litvinenko case" remains a major irritant in our relations. In 2014 the British government suspended the Coroner's inquest into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, wherein the Investigative Committee of Russia had the status of an "interested person", probably because it did not provide a result that would suit the British authorities. It was in July 2014 that it decided to hold, instead, a "public inquiry". We believe it was a strategic miscalculation. The inquiry was, effectively, secret, since the evidence of the British special services was examined at closed-door hearings. Moreover, the remit of the "public inquiry" did omit the issue of British special services' responsibility in Litvinenko's death, which was on the agenda of the Coroner's inquest. As to the open hearings, they served to release hysterical rhetoric of selected witnesses, including anonymous and "professional" critics of Russia and defectors. The use of these methods in investigation provides sufficient grounds to question the objectivity and impartiality of the verdict.

The Russian Investigative Committee terminated its participation in the "public inquiry" for the sole reason that the inquiry was non-transparent and the ultimate politicisation of legal action taken. These fears have been proved true.

We consider the Litvinenko case and the way it was disposed of a blatant provocation of the British authorities. The Russian side will never accept anything arrived at in secret and based on the evidence not tested in an open court of law. We view the whole situation as an attempt to put additional pressure on Russia in connection with existing differences over a number of international issues. For us it is absolutely unacceptable that the report concludes that the Russian state was in any way involved in the death of Mr Litvinenko on British soil.

In the absence of full information and all the facts, as well as of the very adversary scrutiny of the evidence, with official allegations on the Russian state's involvement over a number of years, there cannot be too much openness and transparency in this case. Only truth and due process could help overcome this artificial irritant in Russo-British relationship.

It goes without saying that we deeply deplore the way the British government chose to dispose of this case, i.e. a whitewash of its special services at our expense. And, of course, it cannot help harming further our bilateral relationship in a serious way.

At the same time, the UK authorities do not rush as regards execution of the Prosecutor-General's Office's requests for extradition of Russian citizens, who are under criminal investigation in Russia (currently - more than 40 requests), mainly for economic crimes.

As a result, the picture of our bilateral relations is reduced to a sort of mini-agenda consisting of minor technical matters, primarily visa issues.

One of a few bright pages in our relationship is the systematic work of the Embassy on presentation of the Ushakov medals to British veterans of the Arctic Convoys. A number of ceremonies, arranged in many British regions and attended by local authorities, showed that there still is a truly positive attitude to Russia, as well as the memory is kept of our common fight against fascism during World War II. All in all 3373 British veterans were awarded the Ushakov medal.

Despite the reluctance of official London to approach the issue of normalization of bilateral relations with Russia in a constructive way, representatives of the British Parliament have been steadily expressing willingness to develop contacts with their Russian counter-partners. For example, within the framework of the current enquiries on Russo-British relations initiated by the House of Commons Defence and Foreign Affairs Committees ("Russia: implications for UK defence and security" and "UK's relations with Russia" respectively), their members visited Russia in April and May 2016 to hold meetings in the respective Committees of the State Duma, as well as in the MFA of Russia. In addition, the Russian Embassy in London prepared its submission to the Foreign Affairs Committee, where official Russian position on the current state of the bilateral Russo-British relationship is comprehensively stated (its full text can be found at the official website of the UK Parliament:

http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/foreign-affairs-committee/the-uks-relations-with-ussia/written/31644.html)

We welcome re-establishment of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Russia and election of Sir Edward Leigh its Chairman. Hopefully, this decision will help to restore invaluable parliamentary contacts between our countries, which might contribute to the development of bilateral relations as a whole.

Inter-regional links were, too, significantly affected by complications in our political relations. The number of official visits at this level has been sharply reduced. Dialogue is mainly sustained through expert community and civil society. Within this context, people-to-people contacts, related primarily to cooperation between the Russian and British regions, including the Twin Cities, gained special significance. Thus, there was a successful visit of the delegation of the Government of Volgograd to Coventry in late 2014. As a result, the parties reached an agreement on development of economic, cultural and educational ties between the two cities. In July 2015 the delegation of the Government of Moscow visited London to discuss the issues of development of the transport systems of the two cities. Plans for other areas of joint work were discussed.

Contacts in the area of cultural cooperation, especially within the framework of the Year of Culture, held at our initiative in 2014, made a positive contribution to our overall bilateral relationship. Its programme counted around 300 events. Success of these events confirmed that the British public and cultural community is ready for a direct and unbiased dialogue despite the prevailing political conjecture. The "Cosmonauts" exhibition, hosted by the Science Museum of London has become a new highlight in our scientific and cultural cooperation with the British side. Events within the framework of the Year of Languages and Literature in 2016 will also contribute to the development of our cultural ties. The exhibition "Russia and the Arts. The age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky" in the National Portrait Gallery, which has been a great success, gave the British public an opportunity to see masterpieces on loan from the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. Some of them have never been shown outside Russia before.

Plans to conduct a bilateral Year of Science and Education in 2017 are currently being discussed. In this regard a substantial impulse to development of Russo-British scientific ties was achieved as a result of the British astronaut Tim Peake's mission aboard the International Space Station.

 

Updated: June 2016