Britain, Russia upgrade Cold War hotline

15th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain and Russia announced an upgrade to their Cold War hotline and vowed to cooperate on counter-terrorism Tuesday as they strove to demonstrate a thaw in ties after a frosty period.

The announcements were made on a two-day trip to Britain by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

After talks, British Foreign Secretary William Hague conceded there had been "serious disagreements" between the countries but said they were now looking towards a "patient, steady improvement in relations."

Lavrov, who also met Prime Minister David Cameron on his visit, said there was ample evidence that "our relationship is transforming into a new one, a constructive one of partnership characterised by trust."

Hague told a joint press conference that Russia and Britain had signed an agreement for an upgrade to the telephone hotline between the Kremlin and Downing Street, in place since the early years of the Cold War.

"This is not in any way a sign that we are returning to Cold War mentality," Hague insisted.

Russia and Britain also plan to work together to fight international terrorism after the Domodedovo airport bombing which killed 36 people and ahead of Olympic Games in both countries, the ministers said.

"We are considering our cooperation on ensuring safety for the (London) Olympic Games of 2012 and (the Winter Olympics) in Sochi in 2014," said Lavrov.

Sceptics have also questioned whether real cooperation is possible given Britain has refused to work with Russian security service the FSB since the killing of dissident Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.

Russia has infuriated Britain with its refusal to extradite lawmaker Andrei Lugovoi, the chief suspect in the case, and Moscow is equally angry over London's unwillingness to drop the demand.

Both sides are however keen to move on and work within the limitations of their "red lines", especially given the renewed business opportunities as their economies recover from the global financial crisis.

The countries' importance as trade partners was underlined by a major deal struck last month under which state oil giant Rosneft will join forces with Britain's BP to explore Arctic deposits.

Lavrov's visit follows a trip to Moscow by Hague in October and Cameron is planning to visit Russia later this year.

Hague admitted on Tuesday that London's differences with Moscow would not be resolved overnight but said relations were steadily improving.

"Yes, we've had some serious disagreements between our countries. We don't always see eye to eye now," Hague said.

But he added: "Sergei Lavrov's visit only four months after I travelled to Moscow shows that our countries continue to seek a patient, steady improvement in relations."

Despite the warm words, a steady stream of diplomatic wrangles has marred efforts to improve ties.

Just this month, the countries exchanged sharp remarks over the expulsion of the Moscow correspondent of British newspaper The Guardian.

Russia is in turn angry over the case of its national Katia Zatuliveter, who was arrested while working as a researcher for a British lawmaker and faces possible deportation over allegations she was spying.

© 2011 AFP

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