You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

UK and Russia consider May-Putin meeting to thaw relations

The Guardian logo The Guardian 16/06/2019 Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor
May Putin © Getty Images May Putin

The UK and Russia are examining the scope for a thaw in relations, including the possibility of a meeting between the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and Theresa May at the G20 leaders’ summit in Japan at the end of this month.

If a meeting were to go ahead it would be the first encounter at this level since the poisoning in Salisbury of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in March last year – an episode that led to 23 Russian diplomats being expelled by the UK followed by the expulsion of a similar number of British diplomats from Russia.

a man and a woman sitting on a bench: Theresa May and Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China, in 2016. © Reuters Theresa May and Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China, in 2016.

The loss of the quality of the expelled British diplomats has severely damaged Britain’s capacity to analyse Russia from inside the country. Moscow also closed the British Council offices and the UK’s diplomatic outpost in St Petersburg.

Video: Putin says Theresa May has to implement Brexit or "is it democracy?" (Daily Mail)

UP NEXT
UP NEXT

No meeting between the two leaders would go ahead unless both sides felt certain it would be productive, and a common agenda is achievable. There is also a question of whether Putin would prefer to try to turn a new page with the UK with a new prime minister.

Boris Johnson, the Conservative leadership frontrunner, was sharply critical of Russia’s actions in Syria as foreign secretary, but before the poisoning had travelled to Moscow in December 2017 to meet the long-serving Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov.

The G20 summit, in Osaka on 28-29 June, is likely to be May’s last international outing as prime minister. Putin briefly approached May at the last G20 in Argentina in November.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May (L), Russia's President Vladimir Putin (2l), Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and President of the European Council Donald Tusk (2R) line up for the family photo on the first day of the G20 summit in Hamburg, northern Germany, on July 7, 2017.
Leaders of the world's top economies gather from July 7 to 8, 2017 in Germany for likely the stormiest G20 summit in years, with disagreements ranging from wars to climate change and global trade. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB        (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images) Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May (L), Russia's President Vladimir Putin (2l), Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and President of the European Council Donald Tusk (2R) line up for the family photo on the first day of the G20 summit in Hamburg, northern Germany, on July 7, 2017. Leaders of the world's top economies gather from July 7 to 8, 2017 in Germany for likely the stormiest G20 summit in years, with disagreements ranging from wars to climate change and global trade. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

It is thought to be unrealistic to expect Russia to accept responsibility for the Skripal episode, or allow the two GRU agents to be extradited for trial in the UK.

The Foreign Office, and intelligence agencies, would have to judge whether some kind of acknowledgement that such episodes should not happen, or ever be repeated, the maximum likely to be offered, is sufficient for relations to be taken out of the deep freeze. Britain would need certainty that Russia had drawn the right conclusions from the episode.

Britain remains certain that the Russian state was responsible for the poisoning based on the information provided by Porton Down, the government’s chemical weapons research centre.

Two named Russian agents were identified by the UK government inquiry as travelling to Salisbury at the time of the poisoning, and the pair then attempted on TV to explain their visit simply as driven as tourists’ interest in the cathedral city. The inept explanation was seen as laughable inside Russia, and was thought to have embarrassed Putin.

May said the operation has been conducted by GRU intelligence agents and would almost certainly have been approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MARCH 13, 2018: A sign at the British Embassy in Moscow. Mikhail Japaridze/TASS (Photo by Mikhail Japaridze\TASS via Getty Images) MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MARCH 13, 2018: A sign at the British Embassy in Moscow. Mikhail Japaridze/TASS (Photo by Mikhail Japaridze\TASS via Getty Images)

Nevertheless, the UK side has been intrigued by recent public comments from Putin distancing the Russian political class from the actions of the spy agency. “When all’s said and done we need to turn this page connected with spies and assassination attempts,” Putin said recently on the sidelines of an economic forum in St Petersburg. He described Skripal, a former colonel in Russian military intelligence who betrayed dozens of Russian agents to MI6, as London’s spy.

“He’s your agent not ours. That means you spied against us and it’s hard for me to say what happened with him subsequently. We need to forget about all this in the final analysis,” said. According to Putin, “global issues related to common economic, social and security interests are more important than the games played by intelligence agencies”, he said.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 20:  The Embassy of Russia on March 20, 2018 in London, England.  (Photo by Neil Mockford/Getty Images) © 2018 Neil Mockford LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 20: The Embassy of Russia on March 20, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Neil Mockford/Getty Images)

The Russian president also mentioned his recent meeting with members of the British community, describing it as “very good”.

“We have $22bn-worth of British investment. These people want to feel secure. They would a positive trend in relations to emerge. We treat them as friends, whose interests must be protected regardless of the current political situation,” he said.

Christian Turner, Britain’s deputy national security adviser, went to Moscow this month to meet Russian ministers and officials. A level of co-operation is needed between countries intelligence agencies so that signals, such as troop movements, are not misread.

MSN are empowering Women In Sport this summer. Find out more about our campaign and the charity fighting to promote the transformational and lifelong rewards of exercise for women and girls in the UK here.

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from The Guardian

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon