Great Britain, Relations with


Great Britain, Relations with
   Anglo-Russian relations date to the mid-16th century; however, the relationship has been more often characterized by rivalry and suspicion than by cooperation. From the Crimean War (1853–1856) until the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907, the two empires were locked in a global competition across the Eurasian supercontinent. British troops invaded Russia during the civil war; however, after the Bolsheviks consolidated power, a modus operandi was established with Moscow, with the two states joining forces against Nazism in 1941.
   With the advent of the Cold War, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and Great Britain returned to an adversarial footing, dramatically initiated by Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s condemnation of the Soviet “iron curtain” across Eastern Europe. After pursuing a stridently anti-Communist foreign policy in the early years of her premiership, Margaret Thatcher’s government moved quickly to establish close ties to the USSR under Mikhail Gorbachev, even declaring the Cold War to be over in 1988. After independence, Boris Yeltsin pursued an Atlanticist policy that cultivated extremely close relations with Great Britain. In 1994, Queen Elizabeth visited Russia, the first royal visit by an English monarch since the execution of Nicholas II in 1918. While Yeltsin’s relationship with British Prime Minister John Major did not reflect the camaraderie he shared with U.S. President Bill Clinton and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, relations were generally friendly until 1996 when the first of many post–Cold War espionage cases came to light.
   With the Labour Party victory in 1997, the relationship remained stable. The new prime minister, Tony Blair, primarily focused on economic issues between the two countries during the waning years of Yeltsin’s presidency. Currently, Russo-British foreign trade turnover is in excess of $20 billion per year, with Britain ranking as a leader in foreign investment in the Russian Federation. British oil companies, such as BP and Royal Dutch Shell, have been particularly active in the Russian sector, as well as developing pipelines in Russia’s near abroad. During the 1990s, London emerged as a principal site for investment (particularly English football clubs) and for capital flight by Russia’s oligarchs.
   Blair was an early international ally of Vladimir Putin, and the two leaders developed a vibrant relationship during Putin’s first term, despite disagreements over Chechnya. Putin was even rewarded with a state visit to Albion, a perquisite denied both to his predecessor and all Soviet premiers. However, as Putin solidified his control on power and the schism over the United States–led war on Iraq rocked European relations, Britain and Russia began to drift apart. In 2003, London irked Moscow by refusing to extradite the oligarch Boris Berezovsky and the Chechen leader Akhmed Zakayev. In 2006, a number of disputes boiled over, including accusations of British use of high-tech spying devices, London’s financing of “antigovernment” organizations in the Russian Federation, and—most dramatically—the plutonium-related death of former KGB agent Aleksandr Litvinenko on British soil. British attempts to investigate the Litvinenko case were stymied by Russia, leading to a war of words between London and Moscow and mutual expulsion of diplomats in 2007. On 4 July 2007, Russia’s out-of-hand refusal to extradite Andrey Lugovoy, Litvinenko’s suspected murderer, drove relations to post-Soviet lows. In 2008, the Kremlin ordered offices of the British Council—an educational and cultural organization funded by the Biritish government—shuttered for tax violations while its officers were detained and interviewed by Russian security service personnel. Rows over visas for British executives working in Russia also worsened the feud.
   Under Gordon Brown, Blair’s successor, an even tougher line has been taken with the new president, Dmitry Medvyedev. In 2008, Foreign Secretary David Miliband, already unpopular among Russia’s elite, signaled Britain’s unqualified support for the Georgian people in the 2008 South Ossetian War, further exacerbating tensions.
   See also European Union; Foreign relations.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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