Interview with Aleksey Pushkov

Aleksey Pushkov, a political analyst, host of a political show on Russian TV-Centre channel and Professor of Diplomacy and International Studies of MGIMO University commented for RT on the unwinding diplomatic row between Russia and then UK.

Russia Today: After the UK had expelled four Russian diplomats everyone seemed to be waiting for a very harsh response from Moscow, but the measures simply mirror the British move. How is this seen both in Russia and abroad?

Aleksey Pushkov: I suppose that in Russia it is seen as a logical response. The Kremlin has said many times that we do not want a sharp crisis with the United Kingdom. We are just responding to the British measures. We are not interested in a serious row, we are not interested in a big conflict. So personally I was not expecting much more although I have to point out that the statement that Russia will not be able to co-operate with Great Britain in a joint fight against terrorism – this is a signal for London that if London needs our help in areas where terrorism is involved Russia will not be giving this help any more and I think this is not quite mirroring what London has done. And this is a sign that Russia is taking this crisis rather seriously. It is not just a formal response: you have sent away four our people – we send away from Moscow four people of yours. There is this addition which I think is very important. It is the sign that if London wants to exacerbate the crisis, Russia will not back off. As for the West I think that those measures taken by Moscow should be considered as reasonable because if we did something like sending away 10 diplomats – that would really be a response that would create a lot of fuss and would create a big scandal. In this way we are just responding to the British moves and we show that we do not want to go any further.

RT: Do you think there is any chance Russia can change its stance and finally extradite Lugovoy under the British pressure and are there any examples of such pressure proving to be effective?

A.P.: The Foreign Office has said that there were countries which changed constitutions under foreign pressure. I do not see Russia doing this. I exclude completely that Russia will change its constitution to make a step towards London. That would be a sign that Russia is not a sovereign country and I do not see it happening. Also I find the British position rather strange because the moment when, for instance, a possible change of the constitution was discussed in order to allow Vladimir Putin to stay for the third term which has been suggested by a number of Russian politicians and public organizations, at this moment what we heard from West was “no, no, no, do not change the constitution, Putin should leave after two terms”. Now they say “it is not a problem, you should change your constitution”. Why? Because we have to please Mr David Miliband? I do not think that the desire to please Mr David Miliband would go that far in Moscow.

RT: Is there any chance, any space left for a compromise between the countries?

A.P.: I do not think there will be a compromise. Usually these crises are resolved by time. Firs there is a sharp crisis, then it goes on for some time, then it slows down. Both sides exchange very sharp accusations, declarations and statements. And then somehow it withers off. So I remember we had such a crisis under Edward Heath, the Prime Minister in the UK in the 1970s, when I think 75 Russian diplomats were sent away from London and somehow we survived this crisis. Then our diplomats were back, the British diplomats were back because Russia responded also in a very sharp manner, the Soviet Union at that time. So I think we have to wait. London should understand that Russia will not change its constitution. So it is out of the question that it will give Lugovoy to the British side. I think it will take time. I am not on the side of those observers who say: “well, in two week's time everything will be fine”. No, it will not be fine. I think we are in the midst of the crisis which will last until October or November because to my mind both sides cannot back off now. They have made very sharp statements. London has taken a very tough position. Moscow is mirroring London's position and Moscow's position is also tough. So cannot just say tomorrow “oh, it was a joke, we back off”. So it will take time for this crisis to go away.

RT: Going more specific, do you think Russian businesses in Britain and British in Russia might be affected by the crisis?

A.P.: I hope they will not although, of course, sometimes it is very difficult, you know, to draw a line between the political relationship between the two countries and business relationship between the same two countries. Because, for instance, some British companies were considered by some Russian state institutions as possible partners in some projects. Now it may be re-considered. But I hope that this political row will not evolve into economic row. The ties will be kept. I know that the British business wants very much to be a part of Russian economic development and I know that British companies were very much present at the last Economic Forum in Saint-Petersburg which was a big success for Russia. And after that Tony Blair said that maybe the British business will go away from Russia because Russia does not behave the way London wants. But I have not heard from the CEOs of the major British companies that they will go away from Moscow because the profit is here. They will not gain from leaving Russia, they will lose from leaving Russia. So, I hope the governments will stop really at the political level of this crisis, they will not really go after the Russian companies in Great Britain or the British companies in Russia.