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10 Jul, 2009 05:44

On the path to a new Cold War?

A recent British parliamentary report called “Russia: A New Confrontation?” says a much tougher line needs to be taken with Moscow because of its foreign policy.

It has been a successful week for US-Russia relations, with Presidents Obama and Medvedev looking relaxed together and resetting the way their two countries deal with each other, but not so in the UK.

Hot on the heels of Obama’s Moscow visit, in London a parliamentary report makes for some frosty reading. The House of Commons Defence Committee recommends Britain should take a much tougher line in negotiations with Russia.

The Committee says its starting point for investigations was the view of some commentators that current relations between Russia and the West risk leading to a new Cold War.

James Arbuthnot, Member of Parliament and committee chairman, thinks that’s unlikely – but he feels there are other difficulties:

“We felt that Russia didn’t pose an immediate threat to the UK, but that it was a genuine threat to some of the countries around its borders. We want to operate in such a way as to improve relations between Russia and the international community, which have taken a bit of a dive in recent years,” he told RT.

The report’s title “Russia: A New Confrontation?” is misleading, says one of its contributors Oksana Antonenko. Although she reckons it is merely coincidence that its release was during the week of Obama’s Moscow visit, Antonenko says the report’s message is consistent with the thrust of US policy towards Russia.

“We need to engage with Russia on the basis of shared interests, and those shared interests really exist, whether it’s Afghanistan or non-proliferation,” Oksana believes, adding, “But I think the report also draws attention to some of the areas where we continue to see things differently, and again, with Obama, those issues have been discussed, but they don’t necessarily represent a barrier for cooperation.”

The report also supports the resurrection of the Russia-NATO Council, suspended briefly after the South Ossetian war in August last year.

Antonenko and her colleagues hoped the suspension period would be used to reexamine the role of the council, making it more inclusive and focused on shared interests, as well as differences.

However, she argues that this didn’t happen, and the Council must now be fundamentally reformed so that it provides a useful, non-partisan dialogue between Russia and NATO.

So far, this report remains just a recommendation. It will now be sent to Parliament, which is required to respond. If it does become policy, the world can look forward to an era where British diplomacy towards Russia will focus on concrete common interests, not just intermittent disagreements.