More than three months after NATO airstrikes on Yugoslavia led to a near rupture in their bilateral ties, Russia and Britain looked yesterday to put relations back on track. At the conclusion of a two-day visit to London by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, both sides suggested that they had taken an important step in putting differences over the Kosovo conflict behind them. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook was especially enthusiastic about the results of Ivanov’s visit, which he said marked a “change in our relations. We want a new and stronger relationship for the new millennium.” Cook also said that Ivanov’s visit had given Britain the “opportunity to extend the hand of friendship to Russia and to provide a signal of our full engagement with Russia in tackling global issues.” Cook indicated that London would take a positive and constructive approach when the International Monetary Fund convenes a meeting next week to consider furtherlending to Russia (BBC, Reuters, AP, Russian agencies, July 22).
Ivanov was less effusive in his praise of this latest, positive turn in Russian-British relations. But the Russian minister, who in May postponed a planned visit to London because of the Kosovo conflict, nevertheless made clear Moscow’s interest in resuming full-fledged cooperation with London. “We are ready to resume relations between Russia and Britain in full volume and in all spheres of mutual interest,” Ivanov said. The Russian minister’s remarks were not entirely unexpected. Prior to his arrival in London, Ivanov said that he had received instructions from President Boris Yeltsin to “restore full trust between our countries and to make sure that bilateral relations get a new impetus” (Itar-Tass, July 21-22).
Ivanov, moreover, suggested yesterday that the resumption of friendly ties between Moscow and London would extend to military-technical cooperation. This was a bit unexpected. Following the start of NATO airstrikes on Yugoslavia, Moscow severed its military contacts with both the Western alliance and those of its member states participating in the NATO air offensive. Moscow has more recently stated its willingness to work with NATO in Kosovo, but Russian officials–and military leaders in particular–had suggested that the resumption of military contacts might have to wait a bit. It will be interesting to see how hardline military leaders in Moscow react to Ivanov’s talk of resuming full-fledged political and military cooperation with London. Tensions between the two countries, after all, had been a product not only of the Kosovo conflict, but also of continued British and U.S. air strikes in Iraq. Policy toward Baghdad remains a major point of friction between London and Moscow, and one on which they will likely continue to clash in the weeks ahead.
During his two-day stay in the British capital, Ivanov held two long sessions with Cook, and met as well with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Afterwards, the two sides suggested that Cook is likely to pay a return visit to Russia later this summer, and that a visit by Blair to Moscow could follow sometime in the fall. In addition, a delegation of British lawmakers from the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee will reportedly travel to Moscow, St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg in September. A session of a Russian-British intergovernmental trade and investments committee will reportedly convene in either Moscow or London. The site and the exact date of that event have not yet been decided (Itar-Tass, July 22).
DIFFERENCES REMAIN OVER BALKANS POLICY.