The present crisis in diplomatic relations between the UK and Russia has been commented widely in British news media. Here we publish three articles from the Daily Telegraph during the last week.
When Moscow fails to obey its own laws
Moscow says its rejection of Britain’s demand to extradite Andrei Lugovoi for Alexander Litvinenko’s murder is based on a constitutional provision forbidding the extradition of Russian citizens.
But human rights activists say that Russia is not always so scrupulous when it comes to obeying its own laws.
They point to, among others, the case of Alisher Usmanov, who was extradited to Uzbekistan in 2005 after serving nine months in Russia for possession of explosives – charges activists say were trumped up.
Mr Uzmanov thought he had just spent his last night as a prisoner in the central Russian city of Kazan on June 29, 2005. His release papers had been signed and his wife was hurrying there to meet him.
But when she arrived, Mr Usmanov had gone. Prison authorities said he had left with friends at 5am. In fact, he had been driven to the local airport in handcuffs and put on a plane to Uzbekistan to face charges of religious extremism.
Like Mr Lugovoi, Mr Usmanov was also a Russian citizen, although by the time he was extradited to Uzbekistan in June 2005, his citizenship had been stripped – illegally, according to activists.
The European Court of Human Rights recently reprimanded Russia for extraditing one of its nationals to Turkmenistan.
Moscow has used the case to reinforce its argument for not surrendering Mr Lugovoi. It also argues that there is a provision within the European extradition convention which allows signatories not to extradite their own citizens if they so choose.
Britain interprets the treaty differently, saying that international law in such cases supersedes Russian law.
According to human rights activists, Russia often breaks extradition laws in other areas as well.
As a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights, Russia is legally forbidden from extraditing anyone, regardless of nationality, to countries that are accused of practising torture. Both Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan fall into that category.
Mr Usmanov was jailed for eight years in November 2005. No news of his fate has been heard for more than a year.
Russia has handed over 300 people to Uzbekistan. In 90 per cent of those cases, according to the Russian human rights organisation Memorial, authorities had not bothered to go through formal extradition procedures.
By Adrian Blomfield in Moscow 17/07/2007
Kremlin finds renewed power from oil
Flush with oil and gas wealth, Russia has acquired the economic might to inflict punishing wounds on British interests – if it so wishes.
With the world’s third largest foreign reserves ($405 billion), the country is unrecognisable from the basket case that defaulted in 1998. The economy is growing at 7.7 per cent a year, and the Moscow bourse has just reached the big league with a worth of $1,000 billion (£491 billion).
The Kremlin says it aims to keep business matters entirely separate from the escalating Litvinenko affair, not least because Russia itself will pay a global price if its reputation is tarnished any further in the City of London.
If tempers flare, however, the London Stock Exchange is directly in the firing line. Russian companies make up a third of all stock markets floats in the City so far this year.
There are now 42 Russian groups listed on the LSE and the junior AIM exchange, with a combined worth of roughly £267 billion. The floats have been a boon for City bankers, accountants and lawyers. There is now a risk that Russia will strive to keep the business at home. It is already drafting a law aimed at turning Moscow into a financial hub. The most vulnerable British companies are the big oil groups BP and Shell, and a long list of miners, many of which have invested in remote parts of Siberia and the Arctic.
Peter Hambro, the chairman of the gold group Peter Hambro Mining operating in the Yamur region, said the dispute was causing heartburn.
The Kremlin has already played rough with foreign firms, revoking environmental licences as a means of annulling contracts agreed a decade ago when Russia was on the back foot. Shell has been forced to cede control of its $22 billion liquefied natural gas project on Sakhalin Island to Gazprom.
Mr Putin believes that the country’s crown jewels were sold off cheaply in the 1990s “sale of the century”. He is systematically reclaiming what he calls the birthright of the Russian people.
BP’s huge energy partnership with TNK kicked off in 2004 with the full blessing of Mr Putin, so it may be shielded from reprisals.
Christopher Granville, a Russia expert at the risk group Trusted Sources, said it was highly unlikely that the Kremlin would retaliate against business.
However, Stephen Pope, the chief strategist at Cantor Fitzgerald, said that Russia might make British companies feel the heat in countless little ways.
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard 17/07/2007
Cold War echoes as UK takes tough line
After barely three weeks in office, the most youthful foreign secretary for 30 years has taken a step harking back to the depths of the Cold War.
His decision to evict four of the 66 staff accredited to Russia’s embassy in London yesterday is a genuine landmark. For the first time, a Western country has imposed direct counter-measures on President Vladimir Putin’s government. The era when Russia’s growing belligerence met with only verbal protest has come to an end.
Mr Miliband will have weighed several key factors before making his decision. Russia’s adamant refusal to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, the former KGB agent and key suspect in what Mr Miliband called the “horrifying and lingering death” of Alexander Litvinenko, could not be allowed to go unanswered. Equally, the Foreign Secretary will have judged Russia’s possible reaction.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind was the last Foreign Secretary to expel Russian diplomats, evicting four in 1996 who were accused of being spies. He said that Mr Miliband would have borne “two key considerations” in mind. “The response had to be serious because there isn’t anything more serious than a British citizen being murdered on the streets of London,” said Sir Malcolm.
“But at the same time, you mustn’t overreact because there is no wider British interest in a complete disintegration of Anglo-Russian relations.”
Countries very rarely expel one another’s diplomats. It generally happens only when they are on the brink of war or when a major counter-espionage operation has concluded. Yesterday was only the second occasion since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 that Britain has taken this step against Russia.
Sir Malcolm supported the Foreign Secretary’s “highly unusual move”, saying it was “both robust and proportionate”. By Cold War standards, Mr Miliband’s move against four diplomats was relatively modest. Sir Alec Douglas-Home, the Foreign Secretary from 1970 until 1974, cleared out the Soviet embassy by evicting 105 staff in 1971. This dramatic decision followed information given by a KGB defector and allowed Sir Alec to shut down the Soviet Union’s entire espionage operation in Britain overnight.
Oleg Gordievsky, who spied for Britain while in the highest reaches of the KGB, called Sir Alec’s decision “one of the most remarkably revolutionary actions in the Cold War”. In 1985, information passed on by Mr Gordievsky led Sir Geoffrey Howe, then Foreign Secretary, to expel 25 Soviet diplomats who were all accused of being KGB spies working undercover.
Moscow responded by ordering an equivalent number of British staff to leave their embassy. Sir Geoffrey hit back by expelling another six Soviet diplomats from London. Moscow promptly evicted another six Britons. By this stage, Britain’s embassy in Moscow was down to only 19 staff and could barely function. London did not respond and the round of tit-for-tat expulsions came to an end because both sides were in danger of running out of diplomats.
Sir Malcolm said it was “entirely possible” that a second round of expulsions could take place after Mr Miliband’s decision, following the precedent set by 1985. Britain will have anticipated and planned for Russia’s possible response. The eviction of a similar number of British diplomats from Moscow will be taken as a signal that Russia wishes to draw a line under the whole affair. Mr Miliband will probably breathe a sigh of relief.
Both sides would then discretely explore the possibility of a compromise over Mr Lugovoi. Russia insists that its constitution prevents him from being extradited to stand trial in Britain over the Alexander Litvinenko murder.
London may counter this by suggesting that a British court conduct the trial in Moscow, using the precedent set by the Lockerbie trial when a Scottish court relocated to the Netherlands in order to try two Libyan intelligence agents accused of bombing the Pan Am flight over the Scottish town in 1988.
But Mr Putin’s foreign policy has grown increasingly assertive and belligerent. Emboldened by high oil prices and Russia’s consequent economic boom, he is going out of his way to assert his country’s status as a great power once more.
Mr Putin could choose to escalate the situation by retaliating in a disproportionate fashion, perhaps by expelling a far larger number of British diplomats. If so, the ball would be back in Mr Miliband’s court. This could be the reason why he decided to evict four Russians from London.
This number is high enough to send a strong signal of displeasure but low enough to avoid the charge of overreacting. Crucially, it also leaves scope for a second round of expulsions in the event of a disproportionate Russian response to yesterday’s decision.
In the best tradition of the Cold War, this confrontation is likely to continue.
By David Blair, Diplomatic Correspondent 17/07/2007