British PM Cameron looks to melt tensions on Russia visit

British Prime Minister David Cameron began a visit to Russia on Monday, the first by a U.K. leader since 2005.

Speaking before his departure, Cameron said he hoped the two countries could make “progress” and cooperate for mutual benefit.

“Although our differences in recent years are well known, we face many similar challenges and both the president and I believe that we can make more progress by working together on matters of real importance for the prosperity and security of people in both countries,” he said.

Ties between Britain and Russia have been strained since the 2006 death of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko in London and the British government’s subsequent demand that Moscow extradite Andrei Lugovoi, its chief suspect in the case.

Relations were also soured by Britain’s criticism of Moscow after the Russian-Georgian military conflict in August 2008. Russia has also accused Britain of acting as a refuge for fugitive Russian businessmen, including Boris Berezovsky.

Whitehall officials revealed ahead of the visit that there had been no direct contact between Russia’s powerful Prime Minster Vladimir Putin and British ministers of diplomats for over four years.

Cameron is expected to meet Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during his visit. Talks with Putin are also expected.

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