Scrambling to repair Russian-British relations

Russian and British diplomats worked hard over the weekend to normalize dialogue. Yuri Fedotov, Russia’s Ambassador to Britain, and Anthony Brenton, British Ambassador to Russia, expressed their views in the media, arguing for and against the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi.

The Lugovoi case and Russian-British relations should be considered independently of each other. That is the basic premise in media statements made by the Russian and British ambassadors.

Russian and British diplomats worked hard over the weekend to normalize dialogue between our countries. The Daily Telegraph published a statement from Yuri Fedotov, Russia’s Ambassador to Britain, in which he tried to explain all the paradoxes in requests for the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi, suspected of murdering former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko.

Fedotov said: “When Russia ratified the European Convention on Extradition, a special declaration also came into force, based on the Russian Constitution. It forbids the extradition of Russian citizens.”

The European Convention on Extradition mentioned by Fedotov is a fundamental document, used as the basis for deciding whether to grant extradition requests. The Convention emphasizes that signatory countries have the right to refuse to extradite their citizens. Essentially, this is what Russia has done.

But Fedotov’s view is disputed by Anthony Brenton, British Ambassador to Russia. In a Russian media interview on Sunday, he said: “We are not asking Russia to breach its own Constitution. We are proposing to work together to find a way of overcoming this obstacle, given the serious and unprecedented nature of the murder in question.”

In Brenton’s opinion, the Russian Constitution, like other constitutions, allows for various interpretations, depending on circumstances. When asked why London has rejected the idea of Lugovoi standing trial in Russia, Brenton said: We have closely studied the possibility of holding the trial in Russia. But the Crown Prosecution Service declined this proposal.”

Quoting the explanations given by a Crown Prosecution Service spokesman, Brenton added that the crime in question was committed against a British citizen in London, so London is the appropriate location for the trial.

“Moreover, the United Nations and the European Union hae already expressed concern about selective application of the law in Russia. Thus, any attempts to agree to holding the trial in Russia could justifiably be presented as complications from the legal standpoint,” said Brenton.

Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Federation Council’s international affairs committee:

That which has happened between Russia and Britain may be described as a diplomatic chill. London has approached the polonium incident entirely in accordance with British customs: a British citizen was poisoned on British territory, a Russian citizen is suspected of committing the crime, so hand over the suspect. And if your constitution doesn’t permit that, you’d better reinterpret your constitution to suit us. Moscow’s reasonable response: you Britons don’t even have a constitution of your own – that’s why you treat other constitutions so lightly. Why don’t you reinterpret your judicial procedures to suit us.

I don’t think this war of words will affect the whole range of Russian-British relations. They have been established for many years, and they’ve seen worse. Diplomacy wars do affect inter-state contacts, of course. But in our day and age, this influence is not all-encompassing.

For example, I don’t think the British government’s stance will affect cultural relations between our countries. That would do too much damage to both sides.