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Bully-boy Russia needs a lesson in manners

Bully-boy Russia needs a lesson in manners 

Last Updated: 12:01am BST 09/07/2008


The Prime Minister is sometimes accused of running the country on the principles of Soviet diktat, and Gordon Brown is certainly not a politician used to taking “niet” for an answer. But that is precisely the response he received during his first meeting with Russia’s new president, Dmitri Medvedev, at the G8 summit in Japan, where he raised a number of important issues that have led to the recent dramatic decline in relations between Moscow and London.

The leaders met against a backdrop of alarming reports that Russia now constitutes the third largest threat to Britain’s national security after Iran and al-Qa’eda, and that Moscow’s FSB intelligence service was directly responsible for the murder of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned with polonium-210 in a London hotel in 2006.

Not surprisingly, Mr Brown is keen for Moscow to hand over the prime suspect in the Litvinenko murder case, the former FSB agent Andrei Lugovoi, to stand trial. The Prime Minister also sought an assurance from Mr Medvedev that he would reopen the British Council offices in St Petersburg and Ekaterinburg, which were closed when Britain decided to press charges against Mr Lugovoi.

Mr Medvedev responded negatively to both requests, as he did on another urgent issue: the future of BP’s joint venture with a consortium of Russian investors to develop Russia’s vast energy resources. Lord Robertson, the former defence secretary, who is the venture’s deputy chairman, has accused his Russian partners of waging a campaign of intimidation to force BP to end its participation.

Mr Brown sought assurances that the Russians would stop causing difficulties for BP employees working in Russia, but received none.

It is all a far cry from those heady days five years ago, when Vladimir Putin made his historic state visit to Britain. That was when Tony Blair and other world leaders believed Russia could become a valued ally and partner in tackling global issues, from climate change to terrorism. It also explained Moscow’s invitation in 1998 to participate in the annual G7 summit for world leaders, which duly became G8.

That was before Russia’s oil riches began to swell the Kremlin’s coffers, since when Moscow’s ruling elite has been inclined to indulge in the politics of gangsterism and corruption, rather than democracy and the rule of law. Britain is far too small a country to tackle Russia’s bully-boy tactics alone: that is a job that requires the Western powers to act in unison.

They could make a start by threatening to expel the Russians from the elite G8 club, unless they agree to mend their uncouth ways.

“Telegraph view” is written by our team of leader writers and commentators. This team includes David Hughes, Philip Johnston, Simon Heffer, Janet Daley, Con Coughlin, Robert Colvile, Iain Martin and Alex Singleton.

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