Six long years is how long it has been since a British leader visited Moscow and Monday’s long overdue visit between the two countries produced moments of candor and humour as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and British Prime Minister David Cameron looked for a reset of Russian-British relations. Mr. Cameron was in Russia on an official visit at Mr. Medvedev’s invitation with both sides hoping to secure crucial new trade and warmer ties despite the difficulties remaining over five years after the poisoning death of a Kremlin critic in London.
The last visit of a British leader to Russia was during the G8 Summit in Saint Petersburg in 2006 by then-Prime Minister Tony Blair. Blair had previously visited Moscow in 2005.
During the meetings Mr. Medvedev stressed the importance of working together as both countries will soon be hosting the Olympic Games. He remarked that across the Federation Russians are pleased with the the unveiling of a monument to Yuri Gagarin in London as part of the Russian-British Year of Space.
President Medvedev and Prime Minister Cameron signed a number of documents following their talks, including a declaration on a knowledge-based partnership for modernization between the two countries and both adopted a joint statement on developing areas of cultural cooperation.
The 2006 poisoning death of dissident ex-Russian security agent Alexander Litvinenko in London had soured relations between Russia and the UK with Litvinenko’s accusation that Russia’s Vladimir Putin had authorized his killing.
Russia has repeatedly refused requests from London for the extradition of ex-KGB agent Andrei Lugovoi, chief suspect in the case. Near the of their joint press conference Mr. Cameron was asked if the British were dropping the Litvinenko matter in order to secure investment from Russia. The Prime Minister answered by saying, “…this issue hasn’t been parked. The fact is that the two governments don’t agree. We don’t agree with each other about this issue and it’s an important issue to the United Kingdom. I’m not downplaying it in any way. William Hague spoke to Litvinenko’s widow before coming to Russia. It remains an issue between Britain and Russia, and we haven’t changed our position about that and the Russians haven’t changed their position. But I don’t think that means that we freeze the entire relationship.
When asked a similar question the Russian President was more blunt in his reply stating,”I think we all need to learn to respect each other’s legal traditions and foundations. If my memory serves me correctly, article 61 of the Russian Constitution states plainly that a Russian citizen cannot be extradited or handed over to a foreign country for trial or investigation. No matter what happens, we will not do this, and we all need to understand and respect this. We have plenty of questions of our own regarding the way particular decisions are implemented in Britain, say. But we do not make a fuss about it. The point I am stressing is that we need to show respect for each other’s legal systems, and on the question of extraditing our own citizens, no matter who is involved, the answer is always going to be the same: it is not possible.
Mr. Cameron later met with Russian counterpart, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Monday during his visit. Mr. Putin expressed his view that trade between the nations was “developing very successfully”.