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26 Mar, 2008 11:06

Russia signals thaw in UK relations

There’s renewed hope that Russia and Britain will get along better after Dmitry Medvedev told the Financial Times his country is ready to re-open lines of communication. His choice of a UK-based paper for his first interview as Russia’s president-elect i

“He feels that Britain is one of the countries where Russia’s relations are worse than they should be: Britain and Russia have very strong economic relations, but they don’t have good political ties. And I think it was clear to the Kremlin that there is a sort of contradiction – having warm economic relations and cold political relations so it was quite logical to choose a British newspaper to show that there is no reason for these political relations to get any cooler,” Michael Binyon, leader writer for The Times, said.

The relationship between the two countries in the past two years has been the worst in decades.

The two countries went through tit-for-tat expulsions after a diplomatic standoff stemming from the poisoning murder of Aleksandr Litvinenko in 2006.

Britain is also unhappy about the closure of the British Council’s regional offices in Russia which, Russia says, were breaking the law.

“He made it very clear that he wants to improve the relations, that it's in Russia's interests to improve the relations. He didn't make it clear how it's going to happen. And when we asked him he thought progress could be made when he meets Prime Minister Gordon Brown which we expect may be at the G8 summit in July,” Neil Buckley, Financial Times Moscow Bureau Chief, said.
“I think there will be discussions there. Of course the relations have been through a bad patch – but Britain is the largest investor in Russia and there is cooperation on a number of international issues – so there is a will to improve these relations on both sides,” Lord Peter Truscott, the Parliamentary Under-secretary of State at Britain's Department of Trade and Industry, said.

The UK is also starting to send some positive signals.

According to unnamed sources, Britain will be replacing its Ambassador in Moscow before the end of the year. Some say the removal of current Ambassador, Sir Tony Brenton, should be seen in the context of the readiness of the British side to normalise Russian-British relations.

“The foreign office hopes relations with Russia and its new leadership will improve. We do not have specific comments on this particular article to but confirm the stance on Russian-British relations and their development that we voiced earlier,” statement by British Foreign Office said.

Just after Dmitry Medvedev was elected as the country’s new president British officials expressed their hope of continued co-operation with Russia.

To watch Dmitry Medvedev's interview follow the link

To read the full transcript in the Financial Times go here