Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you! Britain, Russia and the Lugovoi Affair

As I forecast in recent columns, Moscow would likely find the West ranged against it in the event of major bilateral problems with individual countries – and it is indeed now encountering greater problems than it bargained for in its dealings with the outside world.

Russia seemed genuinely surprised that London expelled four Russian diplomats after Moscow refused Britain’s formal request on May 28, 2007 to extradite Andrei Lugovoi to face charges of murdering Alexander Litvinenko by polonium in 2006.

Soon after London’s action, the European Union stated that the refusal to extradite Lugovoi raised wider questions about EU-Russia relations, while US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Sky News that Russia should honor the UK’s extradition request.

Poor analysis in Moscow leads to problems

Russia has not only failed to understand the West, but has also overestimated its own power – huge energy resources do not make a superpower – or even a great power, as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq have proved.

Symptomatic of Russia’s approach and view of the world was the comment by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to journalists at the Middle East Quartet meeting in Lisbon that London’s expulsion was due to the need for Britain’s new government under Gordon Brown “to find its own line” after assuming power.

This is nonsense.

A Blair government might well have taken different action, but Moscow should have expected a fairly tough response in any event since no advanced country will tolerate murder on its own territory by foreigners and will either demand extradition – the Anglo-Saxon practice – or trial in and by the country of the national – the Continental European approach.

Russia makes much of the fact that its Constitution bars extradition, but as Russian lawyers have told me, this is a legal red herring – Russia is, for example, a signatory to the European Extradition Treaty, and (written) constitutions can be and are amended.

Germany’s Basic Law also bars extradition, for example, but German law can make provision to extradite suspects to a member state of the European Union or to an international court – where the rule of law applies.

Russian law, however, has no similar provision for extradition, and Moscow refused the United Kingdom’s request that Russia introduce such changes, seeing this as interference of the sort which it (wrongly) regards as being responsible for its dire situation in the 1990s.

But as a graduate in law from St. Petersburg University, Putin is hardly unaware of the argument that even constitutions can be circumvented by other legal instruments.

Few people abroad or in Russia itself, however, believe that Russia is governed by the rule of law – most observers regard the exile of Gusinsky and Berezovsky and the trial of Khodorkovsky as selective and politically motivated.

Burden of proof on Moscow

If Moscow wants greater success in extraditing the people it wants, it only has to convince the world that its legal system and justice are based on the rule of law, and not on the rule of men.

This is a distinction Russia has so far failed to grasp, nor does it seem to recognise that there is a wide body of very influential opinion in the West which argues that if Russia wants to be a part of the international community, it will have to accept its values and rules.

But like much of the third world, Russia thrives on conspiracy theories and far too often assumes that things work in the West as they do at home.

This failure to recognise the strength and integrity of Western institutions, despite the constant backsliding that occurs, leads to the widespread belief that the British legal system is in the hands of politicians – or powerful businessmen – or the military – or all three, and that London’s refusal to extradite Berezovsky and Zakayev, a Chechen whom it accuses of terrorism, is therefore politically motivated and designed to weaken Moscow.

This line of reasoning, of course, extends to other areas too.

Putin has defended what the West sees as Moscow’s clampdown on the Russian media by arguing that George W. Bush himself sacked long-standing CBS news anchor Dan Rather for sloppy journalism – yet another example of bad advice and Moscow’s failure to understand the West.

Cold War II?

Relations between Russia and the West are now at their nadir following the collapse of the Soviet Union, leading to much speculation of a new Cold War.

This is either bad analysis or sensationalism.

Since 1991, Moscow no longer supports a system inimical to Western institutions and has officially espoused Western values of democracy and the (relatively) free market.

But its actions both domestically and internationally are widely perceived – not only abroad, but also at home – as running against these ideals.

Moscow has a vested interested in close cooperation with the West – and vice versa.

It remains to be seen whether London will respond to Moscow’s expulsion of four British diplomats.

But those of us who believe that a prosperous and flourishing Russia is not only good for Russia itself, but also in the West’s best interests, must hope that Putin was right when he said that this “mini-crisis” between the two countries could be overcome.

As I have pointed out previously, in a world of increasing interdependence, Russia and the West need each other.

Official Moscow constantly proclaims its desire to sit at the top table in the G8 and be part of international institutions – Western politicians would like to see this too, arguing, as Rice did this week on Sky News, that Russia is too important to be ignored – more positively, the West needs Russia on board to solve a wide range of international problems.

Russian paranoia or Western persecution?

But this will not prevent the West from continuing to criticize Russian actions it regards as against Western values.

Moscow will therefore have to bring its policies more into line with Western views to avoid this in the future, a move which would indeed be welcomed by many Russians.

Such a move is unlikely, however, since some influential domestic circles would see this as kowtowing to the West.

The paradox is that these kinds of policy changes would in fact enhance Russia’s international power and prestige.

Ian Pryde is CEO, Eurasia Strategy & Communications, Moscow.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

Originally written for Ian Pryde’s weekly column for the Opinion & Analysis section of RIA-Novosti’s English-language website.

Now available at https://sputniknews.com/analysis/2007072069361202/, the site of the Sputnik news agency, the successor to Russian state-owned RIA Novosti’s international branch, which became defunct in 2013.

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