Relations between Britain and Russia remained "in the deep freeze" this week after Gordon Brown appeared to have made "little headway" in his first meeting with the new president, Dimitri Medvedev, at the G8 summit in Japan, said Philip Webster in The Times.
British-Russian relationships have deteriorated to their lowest point since the Cold War following Russia's refusal to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, the suspected murderer of the dissident Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. Within months of the murder, two British Council offices were closed and a row also broke out this summer over the control of the oil company TNK-BP. At least half of Brown's hour-long meeting with Medvedev was taken up with his complaints over these three issues.
Let's not forget that the meeting took place against the "alarming" backdrop of reports this week that Russia now constitutes the third biggest threat to British national security after Iran and al-Qaeda, said The Daily Telegraph. According to one security source, the FSB (Federal Security Bureau) remains as active as the KGB was during the Cold War: there are now an estimated 30 spies operating in Britain looking to steal commercial and state secrets. Security officials warn that Britain now faces an increased risk of a terrorist attack because M15 has to divert resources to deal with them, said Sean Rayment in The Sunday Telegraph.
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"Hard-pressed" British diplomats may like to "peddle the view" that Russia is "generally spiky, malevolent and anti-social", said Mary Dejevsky in The Independent, but Britain is part of the problem. Firstly, Britain's dealings in Russia are, uniquely, heavily weighted towards financial services and energy both areas of "particular skulduggery" during the Russian privatisations of the 1990s. The current dispute over TNK-BP rests on a vulnerability in the business structure for which the Kremlin can hardly be blamed.
Secondly, Britain has attracted a number of Russian migrs recently, a few of whom are seen by Russia as "heinous criminals". If we want to preach "justice, democracy and rule of law as universal values", we should accept being preached back at about "harbouring felons".
To be fair, Medvedev has spoken of compromise, said Adrian Blomfield in The Sunday Telegraph. Unfortunately, that compromise would almost certainly involve the extradition of the oligarch Boris Berezovsky, "Putin's chief enemy", and since Berezovsky has political asylum, Brown cannot deal on this.
But if he really wanted to improve relations, Medvedev could do more, said the FT. Even an "ultra-accommodating" Russian leader would have found it hard to do a deal over Andrei Lugovoi, but the British Council and TNK-BP issues are less intractable. Moscow says the council issue is an admin matter. So, why not "administer it away" and also make it clear that the TNK-BP dispute is subject to the rule of law and neutral courts?
Forget it, said The Daily Telegraph. Since the Kremlin's coffers have become bloated with oil riches, Moscow's ruling elite has tended towards the "politics of gangsterism and corruption". "Britain is far too small a country to tackle Russia's bully-boy tactics alone." But Western powers together could make a start by threatening to expel Russia from the G8 unless it mends its ways.
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