Monday, July 14, 2008

Litvinenko Killing by Russian Goons Has British-Russian Relations in the Deep Freeze

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown (left) and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev (right) cool in Japan (7-7-08)---RFE/RL (7-13-08)

"We have justice to do on the part of someone who was murdered on British soil, and it is not an acceptable position to be where we are."--Prime Minister Gordon Brown

Brian Whitmore (RFE/RL 7-13-08) reports:

When British Prime Minister Gordon Brown set off to meet Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for the first time, he carried an agenda.

For starters, Brown wanted to press the new Kremlin leader on the 2006 killing in London of Aleksandr Litvinenko. Virtually as the meeting began, the BBC was airing allegations that the Russian state appeared to have orchestrated the former security officer's death by radiation poisoning. [See here.]

..."The big European countries are all energetically making peace with Russia. You've got France, Germany, and Italy all in the Russian camp as far as energy is concerned," says Edward Lucas, deputy foreign editor of the British weekly "The Economist" and author of the book "The New Cold War: How Russia Menaces Both Russia and the West." "And so I think to some extent, Britain worries it may be a bit isolated on this."

...Germany, France, and Italy -- which have been eager to cut energy and other commercial deals with the Kremlin -- have long preferred that the EU take a conciliatory line with Russia. Newer EU members like Poland, the Czech Republic, and the Baltic states -- with still-fresh memories of Soviet domination -- have meanwhile pushed for a much tougher stance.

The drama lies with the countries that remain somewhere in between. Sweden has sometimes joined forces with the new members, particularly in backing Georgia in its ongoing conflict with Russia. And if Britain were to fully put its weight behind what Lucas calls an emerging "anti-Kremlin axis developing in Europe," it could change the dynamic of the Russia-EU relationship decisively.

"To me, the really interesting question is whether Britain will then throw its lot firmly with the nascent anti-Russian bloc that is taking shape around the Czech Republic, Sweden, and Poland," Lucas says.

There are some indications that London is moving in that direction. British diplomats managed to get a protocol inserted into the EU's framework for negotiations on Russia's refusal to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, the ex-KGB agent accused of involvement in Litvinenko's death.

...A key sticking point within the EU -- and between Europe and Russia -- will be how to deal with the ongoing crisis in Georgia. Tbilisi's push to join NATO and the EU has infuriated Moscow, which has sought to pressure Georgia via its proxies in breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

In a clear show of support from Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice traveled to Tbilisi last week where she warned Russia against escalating tensions.

...But there are, nevertheless, powerful forces at play preventing the EU from confronting Russia on Georgia, the Litvinenko assassination, or other issues.

Medvedev has been much more conciliatory in his rhetoric than his bombastic predecessor Vladimir Putin, and many European leaders prefer to give the new president a chance to back up his words with actions.

Moreover, many Kremlin-watchers believe there is a debate under way among the Russian elite about the long-term efficacy of the hard-line foreign policy that has been prevalent in recent years.

"What the EU is doing at the moment is [seeking] to facilitate a change in Russian policy," says Michael Emerson, a specialist on Russia-EU relations at the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels. "I think the majority balance among EU foreign ministers is still hoping that they should play their cards in order to facilitate such a positive movement rather than to flip over into a more confrontational mode.

"This policy inclination, analysts say, coincides with powerful commercial incentives like Germany's participation in the North Stream pipeline project with Russia and joint projects between energy companies like Russia's Gazprom and Italy's Eni.

Eugeniusz Smolar of the Center for International Relations in Warsaw says you can see "horror on the faces" of business leaders in Europe when relations with Russia deteriorate.

"The problem is that there are vested interests -- mainly economic interests, but also strategic interests -- that do not allow [these countries] in these circumstances to see Russia as an enemy, [or even] as a major adversary," Smolar says.

Such calculations, however, may change as the Anglo-Russian dispute unfolds.

A defiant Brown, unswayed by angry calls from Moscow to "deny or confirm" the BBC report, told the House of Commons on July 10 that the Litvinenko case "would not be closed."

He added, "We have justice to do on the part of someone who was murdered on British soil, and it is not an acceptable position to be where we are."

The Daily Mail (7-11-08) observes:

Relations between London and Moscow hit a new low yesterday after Russia named a British diplomat as a spy.

Intelligence sources in Moscow claimed that the man, who is employed at the British Embassy in a job promoting trade, was a senior secret service agent.

They 'unmasked' him in retaliation for what they saw as Britain's provocative and bungling actions ahead of Gordon Brown's meeting with new Kremlin leader Dmitry Medvedev three days ago at the G8 summit.

This included a British intelligence source claiming that the FSB – formerly known as the KGB – was involved in the London murder of Russian emigré Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned by polonium-210 and a bid to murder billionaire Boris Berezovsky, an arch-enemy of ex-president Vladimir Putin.

Russian security officials said the official, named as Christopher Bower, director of UK trade and investment at the British embassy, was a senior British intelligence officer.

Mr Bower worked as a reporter for the BBC before joining the UK Foreign Office in the 1990s.

The Russians claimed he used his diplomatic cover to maintain contact with Russian MPs, radical opposition members and human rights groups in the Caucasus region. [Full text]

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