9 February 2016
Moscow: 20:43
London: 17:43

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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 claim to defining the so-called “western interest”, London has initiated such complications.

Nowadays, Russo-British relations are going through hard times. Whatever positive achievements of recent years, those have been substantially undermined by London’s stand to the situation in Ukraine and around the Crimea.

We have to admit that at the moment Russo-British political dialogue is virtually non-existent. London unilaterally froze all the bilateral formats of intergovernmental cooperation which proved their value: Strategic Dialogue “2+2” with participation of Foreign and Defence Ministers, High level Energy Dialogue, the Russian-British Intergovernmental 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 Britain’s support of the EU sanctions regime against Russia, unambiguously criticised by the British entrepreneurs who do business in Russia, is also 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 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 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.

Another negative point in our relationship is the last year's decision of the British Government to suspend the Coroner’s inquest into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, wherein the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation had the status of an “interested person” and provided active assistance to the British inquest until July 2014, and to open the so-called “public inquiry”. This format provides for holding closed-door court hearings and even delivering a partly secret verdict. It turns out that the inquest initiated by the British Government has been made de-facto secret/confidential by the same government, that is the evidence is examined mostly at closed-door court hearings “amongs their own”. In other words, there will not be due process including adversary scrutiny of the evidence. Such a selective approach of the organisers of "public inquiry" and their persistent unwillingness, under any pretext, to professionally perceive legal reasoning of the Russian authorities is another proof that the British side is not going to back down in its choice of politicisation of the process.

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.

Along with that there is a certain activity in other spheres of our relations: cultural ties, contacts in the area of business, science, expert community. We work with media involving information resources of the Embassy and communicate with British citizens on the full range of issues raised by them.

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.

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 late last year. 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 Year of Culture, held at our initiative in 2014, made a positive contibution to our overall bilateral relationship. Its programme counted around 300 events. Success of these events confirmed that the British cultural community is ready for a direct and unbiased dialogue despite the prevailing political conjuncture. There is going to be a new highlight in our scientific and cultural cooperation with the British side soon, namely the Science Museum of London will host "Cosmonauts" exhibition starting September 2015.

Updated: 14th August, 2015