Chill Winds over Europe; Anglo-Russian Relations Are Cooler Still

Article excerpt


LONDON - The row is already deep and nasty. It just got nastier.

British prosecutors have just announced they intend to file murder charges against former KGB officer Andrei Lugovoi for the radiation poisoning of former colleague Alexander Litvinenko in London in November. Britain will now seek to extradite him to London. Russia says no chance; it will not behanding him over. Real diplomatic trouble is now brewing. Relations between Moscowand London, positively glacial for months, are now entering uncharted, freezing territory.

The diplomatic temperaturehas been falling steadily for some time. In April, Yuri Fedotov, Russia's ambassador to the UK, characterized British-Russian relations as already bad with the potential to get much worse. Russia says it has several bones to pick with Britain. In April, the Russian government was enraged by a provocative interview given by London-based emigre oligarch Boris Berezovsky. Mr. Berezovsky allegedly called for a revolution to depose Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia has been pressing for Mr. Berezovsky's extradition to face trial in Moscow ever since 2001. Britain cites the billionaire's refugee status and freedom-of-speech issues.

But the tit-for-tat extradition rows over Mr. Berezovsky and Mr. Litvinenko are only the latest irritants currently bedeviling British-Russian relations. Britain and Russia have a long history of freeze and thaw.

Despite healthy trade relations - Britain exports worth an estimated $5.8 billion in 2005 and 250,000 free-spending Russian residents delighting retailers in London - both countries are openly grumbling about the other. After thetumult of the Yeltsin years in the 1990s, Mr. Putin has been reasserting Russian influence on the world stage with gusto. And, as part of this revanche, Russia has aspects of British foreign policy in its sights.

Outgoing Prime Minister Tony Blair's policies over Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Iranian nuclear issue have all come in for tart Russian criticism. At the United Nations, Russia now views most British policypronouncements over the Middle East with a critical eye.

It simmers over the political asylum status in London of Chechen rebel leader Akhmed Zakayev. And tacit British support for color revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia, for NATO membership extended into Eastern Europe and evidence of British intelligence activity in 2006 have all irked Moscow further. Most recently, British support for U.S. missile defense strategy in Europe and UK press criticism of Russian energy policy "imperialism" have also caused anti-British rumblings in the Kremlin.

Russia's relations with the EU have also become more fractious. At last week'sEU-Russia summit in Samara - by common consent one of themostfrostyEU meetingsthat diplomats can remember - the EU and Russiaclashed noisily over human rights, trade and energy issues, U.S. missile strategy in Europe and over Estoniaand Kosovo. …