U.K. PM In Rare Visit To Russia To Repair Ties, Boost Trade

British Prime Minister David Cameron is hoping to repair political relations with Moscow and boost strong trade ties in the first visit by a British leader since the murder of a Russian spy-turned-dissident in London five years ago.

Speaking on September 12 ahead of a meeting in the Kremlin with President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Cameron called for both sides to be open about their differences, but also to improve collaboration between to two countries.

“I accept that Britain and Russia have had a difficult relationship for some time and that we should be candid in areas where we still disagree,” he said. “But I want to make the case this morning for a new approach based on cooperation.”

It is the first time a British prime minister has been to Russia since the 2006 poisoning of former Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) agent Aleksandr Litvinenko in London, after which relations plunged to Cold War lows.

Russia refused to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, another former agent and now ultranationalist State Duma deputy whom Scotland Yard named as its chief suspect.

Lugovoi told Britain’s “Daily Telegraph” that Britain’s continued interest in his extradition and trial is “incorrect, vulgar, and pitiful.” He told Cameron to drop the issue.

The Kremlin has been angered by Britain’s refusal to extradite tycoon Boris Berezovksy and exiled Chechen separatist leader Akhmed Zakayev.

British officials say Cameron will raise the Litvinenko case. But speaking to journalists at Moscow State University on the morning of September 12, Cameron maintained that his trip would focus on business.

$345 Million In Deals

“Britain is already one of the largest foreign direct investors in Russia,” he said. “And Russian companies already account for around a quarter of all foreign initial public offerings on the London Stock Exchange. So we are uniquely placed to help each other grow.”

The British prime minister is accompanied by Foreign Minister William Hague and a high-powered 24-member business delegation (including BP Chairman Bob Dudley) seeking to seal $345 million in deals.

Besides the conclusion of deals such as the opening of nine new stores in Russia by home-improvement retailer Kingfisher and an important collaboration between Rolls Royce and Rosatom on civil nuclear cooperation, Cameron said the delegation would also “work to give small and medium-sized companies the chance to trade.”

In London, rights campaigners are due to gather to protest the murder of Litvinenko and the incarceration of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

In an open letter published by the “Sunday Times” on September 11, four former foreign secretaries urged Cameron to be vocal on the extradition of Lugovoi.

Lying on his deathbed in a central London hospital in 2006, Litvinenko accused Putin of ordering the assassination.

Amid speculation that Russia’s most powerful politician may return to the Kremlin in March presidential elections, Cameron’s visit marks the first time any British politician has held official talks with Putin for over four years.

compiled from agency reports

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