Translated by Ollie Richardson for Fort Russ
10th February, 2016
Russian Ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko, spoke to TASS about the “frozen” relations between Moscow and London, and whose fault it is that they have reached such a low level. He mentioned that British business wants to do business in Russia, explained why Moscow will not accept the outcome of the investigation of “Litvinenko”, and when all the British participants of the Arctic convoys will receive the Ushakov medal.
In October last year, speaking about Russian-British relations, you said that political dialogue has almost completely stopped. Today, three months later, what stage are we at?
“There has been some movement forward, but it is very far from normal. Naturally, we will make every effort to align political relations with Great Britain, but it is not our fault that these relations are “frozen” and, of course, this is key in solving the present difficulties is in London.”
How would you characterize the Russian-British relations today?
“New reality (spoken in Russian), New Reality (said in English).”
When you say that there has been forward movement, how has this manifested itself?
“There was a telephone conversation between the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, and Prime Minister David Cameron, and a meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his British counterpart Philip Hammond. I had a meeting with Hammond. Certain issues were discussed. But these meetings are infrequent, and they do not have the effect we would like on the general atmosphere of relations.”
How do you explain this paradox: on the one hand, Cameron says that for London it is important to decide the future of Syria together with Russia. On the other – Hammond makes one after the other, shall we say, harsh statements against Moscow, accusing the Russian Federation of escalating the civil war, and creating a mini Alawite state?
“It is difficult to explain these statements. We believe that they do not contribute to the settlement in Syria. We believe that the British should follow the agreements that were reached in Vienna on a political settlement of the situation in Syria. The plan was approved by the UN Security Council, and all that is happening in Geneva is the result of what was reached in the Vienna agreements. We expect that London will do more to combat terrorism and its manifestations, but also with the “Islamic State” and other terrorist groups in Syria. We look forward to a more active role of Britain in establishing a dialogue with moderate opposition. Now that we have entered an active phase of negotiations in Geneva, which are due to resume on 25th February, we expect that the British approach to this negotiation process will be more balanced.”
From your point of view, the UK could do more to fight terrorism?
“Of course, at the time we suggested the British side should participate in determining the goals for which the Russian aircraft has for the terrorists. The British refused.”
If they had accepted, the operation would have been more effective?
“The more information we have on the goals of terrorists, the better, so our fight against them will be more effective, more lives will be saved, the less people will die at the hands of jihadists. But Britain is not ready to cooperate.”
The question for you is closed or is it a work in progress?
“For us, this question is never closed and this is an example where the role of the UK could be more active.”
You often meet with business representatives. What do they think about the current state of relations between Russia and Britain?
“Business speaks out against sanctions, for the development of trade relations between our two countries, which is actively proclaimed, both publicly and not publicly – to the government. Business is interested in the development of economic relations between our two countries. This year we celebrate the centenary of the Russo-British chamber of commerce and industry, and it should be noted that the number of British companies which become a member of this chamber increases. This suggests that British business sees Russia as a prospective partner.”
But it doesn’t help our mutual trade, which continues to fall?
“It’s a consequence of the policy pursued by Great Britain in regard to the development of economic relations, because in circumstances where the intergovernmental Commission on trade and economic relations, and frozen other mechanisms, private institutions, it’s difficult to overcome these tendencies.”
Almost not a day passes without the British printing another extremely critical article in relation to Russia. As a former Director of the Department of information and press of the Russian Foreign Ministry, and the Russian Ambassador to the UK, you, like few in our country, see the situation and are able to analyze it. How do you explain the intransigence attitude of the British media against Russia?
“We consider these publications as putting pressure on Russian policy due to the fact that on many issues our positions, particularly on Syria, in Ukraine, differ. But instead of adequately reflecting the Russian point of view, unfortunately, we hear only the unfounded criticism that cannot but cause regret.”
But is there any positive news in the relations between Moscow and London? Here, for example, on February 25th, the year of language and literature of Great Britain and Russia begins.
“Naturally, the area of culture remains the most developing sphere of relations between the two countries. Trade and economic relations remain afloat, because British business is interested in working in Russia. As for the other issues, primarily through political dialogue and other areas of cooperation, we do not yet see the political will from the British side, in fact, the last event associated in particular with the judicial process on the “Litvinenko case”, does not add optimism.”
Will the story with Litvinenko develop?
“The decision was made. The process was closed to the public, to the press, the conclusions of the judge were accompanied by the phrases “perhaps”, “maybe” and so on. All of this sounds unconvincing, as we are unable to participate in the process, and having not read these documents, we find it difficult to accept the result.”
For a long time the Russian Embassy in the UK, the Russian Consulate will continue to award the Ushakov medal to the Arctic convoys. How is this process? When will all the awards find their heroes?
“I think that before the summer of this year we will complete the presentation of all the awards. There were 3,300, and about 85% of medals have already been presented. We conducted all the ceremonies in large, medium-sized and small towns, and now, because we have to serve them personally, we literally hand them to the door of the apartments of veterans who were unable to participate due to the fact that they live far away or are unable to come. In this process we help the parliamentarians that monitor veterans living in their districts, and we are very grateful to them. It has had a huge positive effect on relations between our two countries, as British veterans’ relatives praised the fact that Russia has awarded and remembers the people who fought together against fascism during the great Patriotic war.”
Given this experience, can we say that there is a difference between the official line and the way ordinary Brits really belong to Russia?
“Of course, there is a difference. And if, for example, we look at the opinion polls made by newspapers on the topic of the attitude to Russian policy in Syria, more than 60% of the British are aware of the policy.”