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October 13, 2010 7:51 pm
The UK has resolutely refused to make any diplomatic concessions to Russia over the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in London four years ago, maintaining the tough sanctions that it imposed in 2007, even as both countries sought to improve economic ties.
Russia rolled out the red carpet for William Hague on Wednesday as he made his first visit to Moscow since becoming foreign secretary, granting him rare direct talks with Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, in the hope that a warm reception would encourage Britain to end the sanctions it imposed after the former spy’s murder by polonium poisoning.
Mr Hague and Mr Medvedev spoke of improving co-operation on trade and on international affairs such as Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea, with a senior British official praising the talks as “a step forward”.
But there was no indication Britain was ready to compromise on the sanctions that restrict travel to the UK for Russian officials and ended counter-terrorism co-operation with the Federal Security Service, the successor agency to the KGB, as Russia had hoped.
The Crown Prosecution Service is demanding the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi, the former KGB officer whom it wishes to charge over the murder. But Russia refuses to extradite him, saying such a move would be against its constitution.
As those positions remain intractable, British officials have maintained that they are not offering or formulating any deals on lifting the sanctions. “They have responded to an opening of the door but that does not mean we are throwing open all the windows,” said the senior official of the efforts to improve ties.
Russia’s relations with many members of the European Union have vastly improved since 2008, when they were at an all-time low over Moscow’s military action against Georgia.
The US administration under Barack Obama has also launched a “reset” in relations with Russia, which has won praise for backing UN Security Council sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme.
But British officials indicated a similar reset was not possible while some of “the more difficult issues” were unresolved. “There is no give in these things,” one official said.
Mr Hague raised concerns over the culture of impunity and corruption that mars Russia’s investment climate, as well as human rights.
But he did not mention directly the politically charged trial against Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed former oil tycoon, which draws into closing arguments this week, or the death in jail last year of Sergei Magnitsky, the anti-corruption lawyer.
But with Britain the single biggest source of direct investment in Russia, few businessmen expect worsening economic relations as the result of the prolonged stand-off over Litvinenko.
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