Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 6 Issue: 8

This focus on Europe has been reflected particularly strongly in relations between Russia and Britain, and in the apparently growing personal friendship between Putin and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. London had made clear its own determination to build strong ties with the new Putin government when Blair made a hastily planned trip to St. Petersburg on March 13 for talks with the then still-acting Russian president. The trip was a politically risky one for Blair because it was made in the foreground of swelling international condemnation of Russia’s war in Chechnya and amid new charges of atrocities by Russian troops in the Caucasus. Only two weeks before Russia’s presidential election, Blair’s trip was also criticized for serving as a virtual endorsement of Putin’s presidential bid by the British prime minister.

British officials made clear at that time, however, that they saw Putin’s political emergence as an opportunity for the West to mend fences with Russia, and that they would not let the ongoing acrimony over Chechnya impede that process. That same message was repeated amid the announcements of Putin’s April 16 visit to Britain. British officials spoke of their hope of cementing a “new strategic relationship” with Russia, and also expressed their determination to follow through on a policy of “engagement, not isolation” vis-a-vis Moscow. They argued that this latter course offered the best hope of reining in Moscow’s actions in the Caucasus.