Interview with Tony Halpin

Tony Halpin, Moscow Bureau Chief of the Times newspaper, spoke to Russia Today about the current row between London and Moscow, which has resulted in the Russian diplomats' expulsion from the UK.

Russia Today: Were you surprised by such a strong reaction of Britain? Why has it chosen to issue Russia such a public rebuke?

Tony Halpin: I do not think a decision could have come a surprise to the Russian authorities. Britain had very little option left. If we go to the root of this particular dispute an act of nuclear terrorism took place on the streets of London. One man died a horrible death and hundreds of others were exposed to risk. After a lengthy investigation Scotland Yard and the Crown Prosecution Service believe they have identified the suspect responsible. And clearly if that person was not going to be handed over to the UK authorities the UK had no choice but to react in some manner. This is the manner they have chosen.

RT: Despite these political difficulties in the relations we have quite successful economic co-operation. How long can this state of affairs continue?

T.H.: I'm not sure there's a relationship between the two things. The political relations are one level and private business is on another. Individual companies make their decisions based on risk and opportunity and the perception of whether risk is outweighed by the opportunity presented by a particular market. Political relations go through ups and downs all the time. But I think business takes somewhat more pragmatic view unless there is a heavy degree of state involvement in a particular industry and it of course colors the decisions made. But so far at least I think there is no evidence that on the private individual company level Russian-British relations have been damaged particularly.

RT: After so much news related with Russia widely covered in the British media: Russian gas, Russian oligarchs, the Litvinenko case now how do you think Russia is perceived in Britain?

T.H.: I do not think there is a single image. There is no doubt that there is a high degree of concern about the Litvinenko case, what happened here and the perception that there is in some way a Russian security service or state involvement at the background of this case. But there are 300,000 Russians living in London. There are many Britons coming here to Russia and they see for themselves what the country is like and Russians build relations with people they know in England. So there is no single image of the country. Having said that there is a clear trend of concern about the way that Russian relations with the West are going right now.