Russia and the United Kingdom are experiencing a thaw in relations, with the two nations agreeing to restore regular diplomatic meetings, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday during a meeting with his British counterpart William Hague.
“There is a possibility to improve the existing dialogue mechanisms, and we have decided that our deputies will regularly meet and discuss strategic issues, including military and political ones,” Lavrov said, adding that Moscow and London have signed the first Russian-British plan on bilateral consultations.
Russia and the United Kingdom have not yet made progress on ways to ease the bilateral visa regime, Lavrov said.
“Meanwhile we have not progressed much in this way [to simplify visa procedures],” Lavrov said.
Russia is interested in easing the visa regime with all countries, and ideally move to a visa-free regime, he added.
“We have nearly a hundred agreements with countries on a visa-free regime for holders of diplomatic and service passports, as well as many dozens of cases of visa-free travel for short trips by citizens. We’re talking about a visa-free regime with the EU, with countries that are Schengen area,” Lavrov said.
“We have from day to day to ratify the agreement on visa facilitation with the U.S., and will speak about the transition to a visa-free regime. I am sure that in future we will be able to talk about it with our British partners,” Lavrov added.
Negotiations on visa facilitation between Russia and Britain were frozen several years ago after the case of the murdered former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko in London. The UK says it wanted to extradite a Russian, Andrei Lugovoi, who it suspected of involvment in Litvinenko’s death, but Moscow refused to hand him over.
Regarding cultural ties, the Russian and British foreign ministers discussed making 2014 and 2015 the years of Russian and British culture and languages.
“We have agreed to consider the possibility of organizing years of Russian and British culture and languages in 2014 and 2015,” Sergei Lavrov said.
Hague said this idea could be extremely helpful in further promoting Russian-British relations.
Both ministers discussed cooperation in sports, particularly in view of the summer Olympics in London in 2012 and the winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014.
The two sides adopted a joint statement on an Olympic truce and agreed to cooperate in this area with other countries, such as Brazil, the host of the 2016 Olympics.
Lavrov and Hague also signed a plan for consultations between their ministries, the first in the history of bilateral relations. Lavrov said the consultations would cover all crucial cooperation issues, including strategic security, the situation in the Middle East, human rights, and also Russian-British relations, in particular visas.
Hague welcomed the prospects for bilateral dialogue in the context of Britain’s presidency of the G8 and Russia’s chairing of the G20.