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Refusal to Engage With Russia Not Viable Long-Term Foreign Policy Option for UK

In the follow up to the UK House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee's (FAC) report on UK-Russian ties, Radio Sputnik interviewed Lord Truscott, witness to the UK Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Select Committee Inquiry on UK-Russian relations on the significance of the document and its positive conclusions.

On Thursday, the FAC published a report focused on London's relations with Moscow, which stated that "the bilateral relationship between the United Kingdom and Russia is at its most strained point since the end of the Cold war."

However the document concluded that "refusal to engage with the Russian Government is not a viable long-term foreign policy option for the UK."

The lawmakers hence suggest that it is necessary to start a dialogue with Moscow in a number of areas, such as the fight against terrorism, stressing that it is necessary to mend ties between the two nations. At the same time, the FAC proposes that the United Kingdom maintains exerting pressure on Russia against the backdrop of Russia's activities in Syria and the Crimean issue.

Radio Sputnik interviewed Lord Truscott, witness to the UK Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Select Committee Inquiry on UK-Russian relations on the significance of the document and its positive conclusions.

"This report is quite significant for three reasons: firstly, because it says that it is important to have a meaningful engagement with Russia. And that has not been the case up to now in terms of recent history," he told Sputnik.

Then, it says that the Russian Federation is not the UK's enemy.

It also says that the foreign office has quite clearly lost its expertise on Russia and that it has no clue what wants to achieve through a relationship with Russia.

Lord Truscott also said that the report puts forward a number of positive ideas about how this relationship can be improved and rejuvenated. And it is time that the government took notice because "it is time to engage with Russia rather than just disparage."

The report also considered certain issues of a particular concern to Russia.

"There was a debate about the role of NATO in the Committee and they did take Russia's concerns into account about NATO's expansion and on whether there had been a promise that the alliance would not expand and whether there were any treaty agreements to that affect." Lord Truscott said.

"From the perspective of Russia, western powers took advantage of a period of relative Russian weakness under Boris Yeltsin in the decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union to enlarge both the European Union and NATO," says the Conclusion and Recommendations section of the document.

"From the perspective of western European countries and the United States, membership of political or economic alliances is a matter for sovereign decisions by the applicant countries if they meet the criteria for membership, and Russia can have no veto on such matters," it further stated.

"The committee came down on the side of saying that there had not been any specific promises for NATO not to expand but that was certainly not my understanding. I don't think that NATO's expansion has been particularly helpful in terms of improving relations with Russia," Lord Truscott said to Sputnik.

The western powers, he said, have "missed the trick" after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. In the early 1990s former US Secretary of State James Baker suggested that Russia should become a member of NATO. Then President Putin himself seemed to toy with the idea at one stage, he added. But the opportunity to incorporate Russia into a Euro-Atlantic security structures was missed.

Instead, he noted, a huge mistake was made though initially marginalizing Russia and then later treating it as an adversary. The West should have insured that it works with Russia and should have encouraged it to become part of international institutions, part of the global security architecture rather than leaving it outside, he noted.

Lord Truscott also commented on the issue of anti-Russian sanctions. The report, he said, made a point of noting that sanctions are not effective in changing Russia's policy and that we should stop accusing Russia of, for example, committing war crimes in Syria where there is absolutely no evidence according to the Committee.

"In Syria, UK Government officials have accused Russia of committing war crimes but have not published evidence to support their claims," the document says.

"…if the Government continues to allege that Russia has committed war crimes in Syria without providing a basis for its charge, it risks bolstering the Kremlin's narrative that Russia is held to unfair double standards by hostile and hypocritical western powers."

Lord Truscott therefore suggested that there must be other pathways to re-building the relationship with Russia apart from sanctions.

"The sanctions are counterproductive and ineffective. One way to improve Anglo-Russian relations is to scrap the sanctions against Russia," he concluded.

[Source: Sputnik News, Moscou, 03Mar17]

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small logoThis document has been published on 06Mar17 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.