UK appeals for EU support in row with Russia
On behalf of member states, Portugal has said the EU is disappointed with what they call Russia's “failure to co-operate” with the UK. France has already voiced its support to the UK. On the other hand, Germany has not said it is backing Britain's actions. Moreover, according to some diplomatic sources, Germany's position is that Britain overreacted by expelling Russian diplomats.
Meanwhile, several other countries are withholding their reactions, waiting for the response of Russia.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband will try to get more backing next week in Brussels, but European leaders say unless Russia acts disproportionately it will be very hard for the British Foreign Secretary to get unilateral backing of the UK decision.
Four Russian diplomats, whose names have not been released, must reportedly leave Britain within 10 days.
Russia is promising an adequate response to Britain's sanctions.
“I hope negative consequences will be limited in time, it is important to weigh all the circumstances of what happened and insist on respect towards Russia and that would take into account Russia's national interests and laws,” said Yuri Fedotov, Russia's Ambassador to Britain.
“There are problems in our bilateral relations. So we have to think what can be done to avoid deterioration in the countries’ relations. But a lot depends on the political will of the British government. Unfortunately, what they decided and how they decided to politisise this issue can affect the overall relations between our countries,” Yury Fedotov stressed.
The British Government has suggested that Russia alter its Constitution so that Andrey Lugovoy could stand trial in Britain. But this has been firmly ruled out by Russia.
“There is only one solution to this problem. We have the verdict of the British prosecutors and now we have to wait until our investigators finish their work. If it is a Russian citizen who is blamed for this crime, he or she will be convicted here in Russia,” stressed Dmitry Peskov, First Deputy Press Attache to the Russian President.
Even within the British Parliament not everyone appreciates the way the case has been dealt with.
“I'm always against megaphone diplomacy, we had all those years of the Cold War, but that should no longer be the case. There are many good reasons and David Miliband mentioned the areas where we have common interest: fighting terrorism, fighting the supply of drugs, the trade that goes on between engaging in investment Britain in particularly investing into Russia – it's all very important,” Robert N. Wareing, Member of Parliament, All Part British-Russian Group, pointed out.
But a short term negative impact on business seems to be inevitable. Now businessmen hope that the existing partnership and mutual opportunities won't be spoilt by politicians.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Grushko released an official statement on Tuesday.
“It’s clear that the line taken by London will complicate or even close the door on the co-operation between the law enforcers on the issues affecting the security of millions of the British and the Russians. Our reaction will be a targeted and appropriate one. The British officials will be officially informed of it shortly. Simultaneously we will fully take into consideration the interests of ordinary citizens, tourists and members of the business community. We wouldn’t like them to suffer as a result of London’s political actions. As is evident from their official statements, Britain will appeal to the EU solidarity. We hope that common sense will prevail within the EU and that its members will not succumb to yet other series of attempts to turn Russia-EU relations into a unique tool that would make it possible to achieve unilateral political aims, which have nothing in common with the EU-Russia partnership interests,” Aleksandr Grushko stated.
A committee of the British Parliament has held a debate regarding further relations with Russia. The general sentiment was in favour of ensuring cooperation in economic and international spheres would not be affected.
However, many concerns were raised as to how far Britain plans to go in order to get Andrey Lugovoy. Jim Murphy, Minister for Europe, declined to comment, saying it would not be correct to speculate at this point in time. Mr Murphy was also asked why England refused to extradite Boris Berezovsky to Russia in exchange for Lugovoy.
“A substantial amount of detail has been compiled by independent UK authorities, which led them to believe that a Russian national had a case to answer for the murder of a British citizen in Britain. And it’s entirely appropriate that CPS after coming to that assessment independently sent an application to the Russian authorities… There is a similar independent process in the UK in term of Crown Prosecution Service is carrying out an assessment of actions of individuals who live in the United Kingdom on whatever status as to whether they legitimately have a case to answer – and that is the case with Berezovsky and others,” Mr Murphy said.
The British Ambassador to Russia Sir Anthony Russell Brenton said the row should not affect business ties.
“The changes in visa issuing procedures will only concern visa applications from the Russian government. Procedures for student, tourist, transit and business visas will remain unchanged. The second plain is economic ties, We do not expect that the actions of the Russian government in the Litvinenko case will affect the economic sphere,” stated Anthony Brenton.
Aleksandr Grushko,Russian Deputy Foreign Minister
Our reaction will be a targeted and appropriate one. The British officials will be officially informed of it shortly. Simultaneously we will fully take into consideration the interests of ordinary citizens, tourists and members of the business community. We wouldn’t like them to suffer as a result of London’s political actions.
Britain is one of Russia’s key foreign investors with more than $US 3 BLN poured into the Russian economy last year. Its interests in Russia are vast: from the oil sector to do-it-yourself. The British-owned Castorama chain has an eye on Russia’s home improvement market. But Russian businesses say politics may eventually get in the way of healthy pragmatism.
“If we exacerbate our bilateral relations further than it definitely will have an impact on the volumes, on the density and on the caliber of our relationship in economic sphere,” apprehended Igor Yurgens, vice-president of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs.
Anthony Brenton said earlier the UK is interested in preserving good relations with Russia.
“The measures voiced by the British Foreign Minister yesterday are a reaction to Russia's refusal to extradite Lugovoy, which is unacceptable. The murder of Mr Litvinenko was a terrible crime and all members of the world community should seek to clear this case. These measures were appropriate and balanced and purposeful. We want to maintain relations with Russia. We did not wish to create such a situation but we need to react to insufficient co-operation from Russia,”he pointed out, adding that visa procedures for ordinary people and economic ties will not be affected.
“I want to emphasise two points. The first concerns visas. We are not willing to complicate the life of ordinary Russians or ruin their travel plans. Russians are welcome in Great Britain, and the number of issued visas is growing. The changes in visa issuing procedures will only concern visa applications from the Russian government. Procedures for student, tourist, transit, and business visas will remain unchanged,” according to British Ambassador to Russia.
“The second point is economic ties. We do not expect that the actions of the Russian government in the Litvinenko case will affect the economic sector. On the contrary, we expect that economic co-operation between Russia and Britain will continue developing,” he added.
The UK is far from being Russia’s favorite holiday spot. It doesn’t even make the top twenty. Russians prefer to head South, the high cost is another reason. Still, last year about 60,000 Russians travelled to Britain and the UK visa application center in Moscow is packed.
“There will be no panic among Russian people. Besides, Great Britain is not a destination where one would go spontaneously, it’s usually a pre-planned journey. But after all the recent political disputes, our citizens may decide to postpone their visit to Britain and tour operators are already noticing a small decline in demand for this destination,” Irina Tyurina, the Head of Russian Union of Travel Industry.
I do not want to characterise all this as a crisis. Obviously, all this has soured the diplomatic relations but I think there will be an asymmetrical response from Russia, this might be expulsions still, but there might be something else. I do not think that Russia wants to play a tit-for-tat, a ping-pong game. It would just make things worse as this would make the British side respond, and I guess at some point both sides will say 'enough is enough'.
Moscow insists it’s being punished for observing its own constitution. London says no counter-strike from Russia would be justified.
On Monday, Britain said it would impose certain measures against Russia, as a result of its refusal to extradite Andrey Lugovoy – the chief suspect in the Aleksandr Litvinenko murder case.
The British Foreign Secretary David Milliband said four Russian diplomats would be expelled from London, and latest reports suggest they have just ten days to pack their bags.
Negotiations for visa facilitation will be suspended.
Meanwhile, the UK will ask other countries to detain Mr Lugovoy, if he travels outside of Russia.
The issues around the Litvinenko case are set to be a part of next EU-Russia partnership agreement.