© Photo REUTERS/Andrew Winning
Protestors confronted Sergei Lavrov in London over Russia’s human rights record as the foreign minister promoted stronger ties between Moscow and the UK.
Andrei Sidelnikov, of rights group Speak Up, asked Lavrov to deliver a message calling on President Dmitry Medvedev to free political prisoners.
“We would like to tell the truth about what happens every day in Russia,” Sidelnikov told The Moscow News. “[People] are persecuted every day by special [security forces] and they are persecuted by the government.”
Speak Up says it is seeking justice for former Yukos owners Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, and looking to bring Andrei Lugovoi to trial for the murder of former spy Alexander Litvinenko in London.
Britain’s request for the extradition of Lugovoi, who is now a Duma deputy, remains a major stumbling block in attempts to improve relations between Westminster and the Kremlin.
Call for cooperation
Lavrov, speaking at the Russian Business Week at the London School of Economics, did not mention the case specifically, but said it was important for the two governments to work together.
“We understand quite well that [foreign governments] care what kind of Russia they deal with,” he said.
The foreign minister agreed to give the protestors’ message – which Sidelnikov added did not contain polonium 210 in a reference to Litvinenko’s murder – to Medvedev.
“Litvinenko and Khodorkovsky are political cases,” said Sidelnikov, who held a shouted conversation with Lavrov following a question and answer session at the conference.
Russian-born Sidelnikov added that he had been granted political asylum in the UK after efforts to prevent him leaving Russia following his friend Litvinenko’s death in 2006.
In his speech to students and journalists, Lavrov said Russia should focus on “pragmatic” policies and work closer with Europe.
Britain is one of Russia’s five largest trade partners, and recently signed a deal to create a strategic alliance between Rosneft and BP.
Since the UK’s governing coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats came to power last year, politicians have focused more on developing business ties after ties soured under the previous government.
While the energy sector remains Russia’s biggest industry for foreign investment, travel firm Thomas Cook recently struck a deal to take over Intourist and Rusnano invested in Cambridge-based Plastic Logics.
The recent attack on Domodedovo airport, which killed 36 people, highlights the need for countries to work closer together on security, Lavrov said.
While he admitted Russia and the UK had “issues”, the foreign minister said they “are doomed to be together in the face of international threats”.
Following President Medvedev’s recent call for a rethink of global security policy, Lavrov said NATO and Russia should create a legally binding framework preventing one country increasing its security at the expense of another.
Middle East policy
Lavrov also addressed the recent riots in Egypt and Tunisia, adding that the government is “concerned with the events taking place in the Middle East”.
While Russia will not intervene directly, it will “encourage the parties on all sides to talk”, he said.
The government will seek to push forward peace talks between Israel and Palestine – which some believe should be put on hold due to the political crisis – as the “unfulfilled promises of a Palestinian state” remain a major destabilising factor in the region.
“I think it would be a huge mistake [to freeze] discussions between Palestine and Israel,” Lavrov said.
by Ed Bentley at 15/02/2011 18:53