Monday, 2 November 2009

Russian relations remain a conundrum

Britain's relationship with Russia, and previously the Soviet Union, has historically been an extremely tenuous one, but one seen especially in business circles as having much magnitude. Beginning in after the communist revolution, Britain amongst other western nations sent troops to fight against the Bolsheviks in the Civil War. This was followed by a thaw in relations slowly through the 30's, at least economically, but remaining suspicion and prejudice. This was of course followed by the Second World War, a period of official camaraderie between the two nations, but with behind the scenes arguments and divisions, united at times only by a common enemy in fascism. And then of course these tensions led to the cold war, when hostility was in its ascendancy. The end of the cold war in 1989, and the collapse of the USSR, has had consequences too numerous to discuss here. Since this point relations of the new Russian Federation and the United Kingdom have been at times tortuous and convoluted. Russian oligarchs have found Britain a nice second home, a place for first-class schooling, shopping and enjoyment, something shown notably by the acquisition of British football clubs. British industry has also wanted to try and get involved in the massively developing Russian energy industry, and British government for that matter has found a requirement to import Russian gas. However in contrast to these growing ties there have been the unforgettable murder of Alexander Litvinenko, murdered by a radioactive element placed in his food at a London sushi bar, with a trail of radioactivity being found on a Russian carrier from Moscow to London and back. The leading suspect of this crime, an ex-FSB agent Andrei Lugovoi, has been kept from extradition safely by the Russians and no outcome is expected. Also many seemingly undemocratic actions have taken place in Russia, again too numerous and complicated to outline here but it is safe to say that democracy is not at its most glorious in the Russian Federation if many accounts are to be believed, something somewhat underlined in Vladimir Putin's domination of the political system. Finally has come the Russian war in South Ossetia, an unjustified and seemingly totalitarian action condemned widely.

So does Britain need to seek better terms with Russia, when such events have taken place and ties have become to fractured to require much tighter visa controls on the Russian oligarchs, and for an end to cooperation with the FSB. I think with Russia's place in the world, as a leading energy giant, even with British attempts to escape dependence due to the Nordic gas pipeline, and with Russian ties to 'rogue states' such as Iran and even North Korea negotiations and settlements have to expected. David Miliband has begun this week to try and begin such settlements, yet it seems little concrete will come out of this Russian visit, the first by a British foreign secretary since in five years. What is important for British relations are that they do not ignore their basic principles of government. Issues of Russian human rights infringements, or the already mentioned lack of democracy in the Russian system, must not be completely overlooked in the search for better international or economic ties with a major power, and one which seems to be increasingly gaining power. Britain can not forget its integrity as a stable democracy and honest power in its dealings with international partners, especially not those in Europe with such power.