‘We definitely have to move in our relations with UK’ – Russia’s ambassador to Britain

Alexander Yakovenko © Aleksey Nikolskyi
While relations between Russia and Britain might not be enjoying their easiest moment, Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko told RT that doors between the two nations are still open and business relations must definitely carry on.

RT caught up with Alexander Yakovenko on the sidelines of the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg that kicked off on Thursday.

RT:What were the main ideas discussed during the session?

Dr. Alexander Yakovenko: Basically, it was very important to understand where we stand in our relations with the EU. On the political side, we see a lot of difficulties. That has been the result of the policy of the EU in recent years; that is exactly what [Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov said. But there is another part of that, this is business. And most of the business people who are on the panel urged that something should be done in order to improve relations and send the right political signals. As one of the representatives said, ‘Europe and Russia are paying a very high price for the sanctions’. So, that was the main idea.

Hubert Védrine, France’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that in Soviet times relations between Europe and the Soviet Union had been much better than they are today. And that is true. That is why for us it is very important to reestablish the dialogue. And Sergey Lavrov said that it is time to check all of the mechanisms that we have, and have elaborated on with the EU for years, and to understand which of them we need. If we need summits, let’s have a look at how many summits we will have. If we have some other commissions, whether they are still useful for us. And that is exactly what Russia is planning to propose, as Mr. Lavrov said. This is a very important message from that session to all of us: to understand that ‘business as usual’ is not possible, and we have to do something.

RT:What result do you expect out of the Brexit referendum on June 23?

AY: We trust the British people. Our position is very simple – we take any results, and this is a sovereign decision. We are not interfering in that. Some politicians in Britain stated that Brexit would be very useful and Russia would be happy about that – it is an absolutely wrong approach. We accept any outcome. And this is the will of the people.

RT:Russia-UK relations have been suffering for almost a year. What is the stumbling block there?

AY: I think the relations are not in very good shape, especially, the political ones. We have differences on Ukraine, on Syria, on sanctions. The sanctions were initiated by the British. But still, we believe that there is a need for reassessing the relations, to look at where and in which areas we can cooperate. We are urging the British side to do that. And I hope that we can do this. I am quite optimistic. And I would like to say that the British Ambassador, who is taking part in this forum on the panel, said that we definitely have to go along with the business relations, and that was supported by the others. As one of the participants said, the political cycles and the business cycles are somewhat different. And of course, the political cycles are a little bit more short-sighted. That is why we definitely have to move in our relations with Britain. It is not easy, but we are open for that kind of cooperation.

RT:Do you expect softer rhetoric from the UK towards the Syrian government and Bashar Assad in the light of recent gains made by the Syrian army? Is dialogue with Bashar Assad possible?

AY: What is important, we reached certain decisions in Syria. And by the way, Britain is part of those decisions. And with the leadership of Russia and the US, we can do a lot in Syria. We would be happy to cooperate with Britain in Syria. Unfortunately, we have some differences and different readings, especially when it comes to Assad. As I would suggest, and I strongly recommend, that the British government should stick to the decisions taken by the Group of 20 on Syria.

RT: How seriously have the sanctions hit the UK economy? Do you see a chance of them being lifted?

 Basically, what I hear from the British business circles is: it hurts. The decline in trade last year was 50 percent. We are all losing. I see strong pressure from business on the government. I hope that the British would be more constructive on that.