MOSCOW — British Prime Minister David Cameron says Britain and Russia can overcome stumbling blocks in their political relations and boost trade ties.
Cameron made the comments after meeting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow during the first visit to Russia by a British prime minister since 2005.
Bilateral relations went into a deep freeze with the murder of Aleksandr Litvinenko, a Russian intelligence agent-turned-dissident, in London the following year.
Russia’s refusal to extradite the main suspect in the murder has been a thorn in the side of political ties, while Moscow has also pressed abortively for the extradition from London of tycoon Boris Berezovsky and exiled Chechen separatist leader Akhmed Zakayev.
Speaking to journalists in the Kremlin press-conference hall alongside Medvedev, Cameron acknowledged problems such as the Litvinenko case, but said they did not completely preclude ties.
“While these difficulties and disagreements between us remain [and] we’re not changing our views on those issues, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue stronger business relations, stronger commercial relations.”
Medvedev smiled throughout the conference, referred to Cameron as “David” and spoke in accented English occasionally.
But he said there was no prospect of Russia bowing to Britain’s demand to extradite the main suspect, Andrei Lugovoi, a former Russian agent and now ultranationalist State Duma representative.
“Article 61 of the Russian Constitution directly states that a Russian citizen may not be extradited or handed over to a foreign state for legal proceedings or an investigation,” Medvedev said.
“That will never happen, whatever the case may be, and we all need to understand and respect that.”
$345 Million In Deals
Both leaders emphasized improving trade ties and praised record trade levels in 2010, and in 2011 from January to September.
The British prime minister arrived in Moscow accompanied by Foreign Secretary William Hague and a high-powered 24-strong business delegation, including BP Chairman Bob Dudley.
Medvedev and Cameron said the delegation would seal $345 million in deals.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (right) meets with his British counterpart, David Cameron, in Moscow on September 12. It marked the first time any British politician has held official talks with Putin for over four years.
Cameron said the Kingfisher home-improvement retailer was opening nine stores in Russia in the next three years. He also said deals had been sealed on civil nuclear cooperation between Rolls Royce and Rosatom, the state nuclear agency.
“Britain is already one of the largest foreign direct investors in Russia. And Russian companies already account for around a quarter of all foreign initial public offerings on the London Stock Exchange,” Cameron said at Moscow State University ahead of the meeting on September 12.
“So we are uniquely placed to help each other grow.”
Chance Of A Thaw?
But many analysts have been skeptical about the prospects for a true rapprochement between Moscow and London. “We shouldn’t expect breakthroughs or failures from this visit,” Vladimir Bruter, an expert with the International Institute of Humanitarian Political Research, told RFE/RL’s Russian Service.
“After a very brief and idyllic period of relations between [then Russian President] Vladimir Putin and [former Prime Minister] Tony Blair, relations between Russia and Britain became cool, but this ‘coolness’ is not taking on a more active form, or a more fierce form.”
Cameron said that Britain’s security services are not prepared to revoke a freeze on intelligence cooperation with Russia’s Federal Security Service that has been place since Litvinenko’s poisoning in November 2006. However, he said discussion could be begun on revoking it.
Cameron fielded a number of questions from British journalists on the Litvinenko case and on whether he would press Russian officials for the extradition of Lugovoi.
In an open letter published by the “Sunday Times,” four former foreign secretaries urged Cameron to be vocal about the case during his visit.
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 the March 2012 presidential election, Cameron’s visit marked the first time any British politician has held official talks with Putin, now Russia’s prime minister, for over four years.
written by Tom Balmforth, with RFE/RL’s Russian Service and agency reports