23 July 2018
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SPEECHES, INTERVIEWS, ARTICLES

14.08.2015

Russian Embassy comments for Russian media (ITAR-TASS Agency) on the state of Russo-British relationship (30 July, translated from Russian)

QUESTION: What would you say on the present state of our relationship with Britain? It looks like after the May parliamentary elections our countries resumed contacts at political level, if we take the phone call of Prime Minister D.Cameron with President V.Putin and Ph.Hammond and S.Lavrov's meeting in Veinna. Still, the same very tough rhetoric by official London at all levels against Russia over the Ukraine crisis is striking. I mean the statements on 'Russian aggression' etc, and all of it in company with the 'Islamic State' and hacking attacks. Where are things moving, and are there changes for the better?
ANSWER: Indeed, the said single contacts did take place. The same is true for working level contacts. It is also true that the openly hostile rhetoric towards Russia does not abate. That is why there are no grounds to talk of changes for the better. There are rather reasons to say that mutual trust, as a result of it, practically stays at nil. London does confirm that its position on 'freezing' the work of all the structures of inter-governmental cooperation and political dialogue stays unchanged.
You are right. Russia is mentioned as part of the said 'troika' of threats to Britain's security on a regular basis, as sort of exorcism. Moreover, this is reflected in the electoral manifesto of the Conservative Party (the election were held on 7 May), thus elevated to the status of a party programme. It has to be noted, however, that London, unlike Berlin and Paris, stays on the sidelines and does not make a tangible contribution to the search for a settlement in and around Ukraine.
For some reasons that are difficult to comprehend, the anti-Russian sanctions related to Ukraine are being extended onto media. In early July the Barclays Bank, without any prior notice, froze the account of the London office of the MIA 'Russia Today'. And though the British Side denies any involvement in the Bank's decision, the issue has been since in limbo somewhere between the Bank and the Treasury. Extending sanctions into the media is tantamount to censorship and an attempt at making them shut up, when there is a lack of argument to support one's position. That took place against the background of EU talk of the 'need to counter Russian propaganda'. Here, our British partners were the first to step forward. But the question is what about free speech as an absolute imperative. Anyway, the famous phrase by Voltaire, as well as the Age of Enlightenment as a whole, are clearly at odds with the ideologised context of the British policy.
It is incomprehensible why Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond at the National Day reception at the French Embassy on 14 July, didn't limit himself to mentioning a 'threat of Russian aggression' and referred to the allied relations with France in the Crimean War in mid-19th century. It is not only that the French got the British involved in this adventure, as they would do a hundred years later in respect of the Suez affair. Historians widely agree that this war was 'unnecessary'. Having destroyed the collective security system in Europe, designed at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the Crimean War created conditions for the wrong type of German unification, i.e. as a Greater Prussia, thus starting the count-down to the First World War. It is worth noting that it was the British Government that insisted on the humiliating provisions of the Peace of Paris (ban on Russia's military presence in the Black Sea, including fortresses and Navy).
It goes without saying that we cooperate within the existing multilateral fora, including the P-5 in the UN Security Council and nuclear powers. A good illustration is provided by the recent success of the talks with Tehran on the Iranian nuclear programme. But at any rate, this is multilateral cooperation, which never ceased, is based on community of our national interests and pursues a broader interest of international community at large.
The overall picture of our bilateral relations has, thus, contracted to a sort of micro-agenda, consisting of technical, mostly visa, issues. These, in fact, consume all our effort in official intercourse with the British Side. Of course, we are active on other tracks: cultural ties, contacts with business and expert communities. We have turned to journalism, making use of our information resources, including the Embassy's web-site. We maintain contacts with British citizens on the entire range of issues they raise with us. Here we are quite successful. For example, the other day Ambassador A.Yakovenko wrote a letter to David Smith, a former teacher, who expressed concern over the state of our bilateral relationship. It turned out to be a very substantive response. We asked the Chatham House to put it at their web-site as our comments on their recent report the 'Russian Challenge', which is steeped in age-old anti-Russian prejudices, not to mention a complete lack of self-criticism. The Chatham House responded, but only after we had placed that material at our web-site.
As to the official contacts, it appears that the British Side, in violation of its obligations under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations of 1961, has focused on putting artificial obstacles in our work. In particular, it is a matter of delays of up to 5 to 6 months in issuing visas for our newly appointed personnel, both Foreign Office and Home Office taking advantage of staffing differences as regards our respective official missions (embassies and consulates-general). They don't discriminate in terms of the positions concerned. They do it as a matter of principle. As a result, the waiting list of our personnel is 3 times bigger than that of the British, with the British Side issuing visas to the number of our staff which meets the number of their staff they need post to Russia at a given moment. They call it reciprocity in action. So, we have to extend terms of posting of our staff already in place, or they depart without replacement. In addition to all that, the British Side has undertaken to set maximum limits of terms of our personnel posting, which in fact, is a threat of expulsion and contravenes its international obligations.
One may conclude therefrom, that the British have no interest in maintaining normal diplomatic relations with Russia. What is behind that is difficult to say. Maybe, some cultural disconnect. There exist good English words that come to mind, including the word 'bloody-mindedness', the charge the British and the Americans have the habit of exchanging of.
It is hard to tell for how long it is going to continue. The Embassy is not in the business of psychoanalysis. We are told that all depends on a satisfactory resolution of the Ukraine crisis. But it is easy to destabilise a country. To bring it back onto the track of stable development is by far harder. Ukraine is at an early stage of its crisis. Nobody will tell when everything will come back to normal. Thus, our relationship with Britain is turning into a function of vicissitudes of the crisis in Ukraine. It means that we and the Russian public opinion have to be patient.
However, everything is serious enough, and we are compelled to look for ways to bring our visa asymmetries with the British to a common denominator. It would mean some hurting response on our part, where the reciprocity principle goes our way. Actually, they want to humiliate us. What for? To feel themselves standing tall at somebody else's expense? This reminds us NATO generals who being unable to wage war on us, engage in word-, rather than sabre-rattling.
Under the circumstances, some remarks of our compatriots in the past on the British establishment come handy. Ivan Tourgenev in one his letters after visiting London in 1858 wrote that 'the English respect force including that of money, more than anything else'. By the way, now they increasingly talk of London as 'Number 1 off-shore'. Even the 'New-York Times' writes that London is comfortable and beautiful, but it 'smells' of dirty money. The authorities admit that. But wouldn't extradite Russian citizens wanted in Russia for economic crimes. The reason may lie somewhere else. The 'Financial Times' some time ago quoted John Le Carre (David Cornwell), who, presumably knows it by his own experience, when says that 'intelligence services are spiritual home of the British political elite'. Nobody dared refute him.
This notion makes one reflect on the reasons for suspending by the British authorities the Coroner's inquest into the death of Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006 and launching, instead, a 'public inquiry'. The latter, unlike the former which is completely open, provides for secret hearings and a verdict that may be partially secret. It may sound bizarre in our time, but those who call the tune in our bilateral relationship, are most likely the ones who make such decisions aimed at covering up their own incompetence, if not outright stupidity. Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun were issued British visas at Litvinenko's request for they were his buddies. It was done in violation of the British official policy of refusing visas to former officers of Russian special services. It appears that they were allowed to enter Britain only to be accused of the murder of their friend, who, as is now known, collaborated with the British special services and even did something analytical on Russia for them. For lack of argument, at the final stage of open hearings the presiding judge decided to engage in commedia delVarte of scandal, which may be good for the tabloid press, but bad for our bilateral relations.
In any case, it is for the British Side to make the choice. We are not in the business of imposing ourselves upon anyone. We are always willing to talk even if we know that nothing could come out of it. The source of huge satisfaction is our contacts with the British at large, including the Arctic Convoys veterans in the course of ceremonies to present them with the Ushakov medals. In the final count, the British suffer no less than us from the habits and instincts of their political elite, rooted in distant history. In the meantime we are working for a positive future of our relationship. Sure, it will come sooner or later.




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