30 мая 2016
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 RUSSO-BRITISH BILATERAL RELATIONS

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 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 projection of our differences over in Ukraine 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 value: 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 Britain’s support of the EU sanctions regime against Russia, unambiguously criticised by the British entrepreneurs who conduct 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 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.

In the light of the publication on January 21 2016 of the report of the so-called public inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko in Britain, we have to state that we are not surprised by this outcome reached after 18 months of backdoor games played out under the guidance of a judge who was considered a top-notch professional. The Report of the Inquiry is a logical conclusion of a pseudo-legal play that was enacted by the UK courts and executive authorities with the sole purpose of slandering Russia and its leadership.

This highly specific form of investigation was not, contrary to its name, transparent or open to the Russian party or the British public, but consisted of numerous closed meetings held to discuss “classified” intelligence evidence and testimony by unidentified witnesses. The use of these methods in investigation provides sufficient grounds to question the objectivity and impartiality of the verdict.

The public inquiry was launched after the coroner’s investigation was suspended, probably because it did not provide a result that would suit the British authorities. 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. The length of time that it took to “close” this case in this way makes us to believe it to be a whitewash for British special services’ institutional incompetence.

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. This gross provocation of the British authorities cannot help hurting our bilateral relationship.

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 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 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. "Cosmonauts" exhibition, which has been launched in September 2015 and is 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 Year of Languages and Literature in 2016 will also contribute to the development of bilateral Russo-British cultural ties.

Updated: February 2016