One needs to go back all the way to the summer of 2003 for the last time Vladimir Putin went to London. Since that meeting with then Prime Minister Tony Blair, relations between the two countries have soured dramatically. Spy scandals, diplomatic disputes and Britain’s decision to grant political asylum to individuals opposed to Putin have all played a part.
Ties nosed dived in 2006 with the murder by radioactive poisoning of former KGB agent Alexander Litvineko in London. Since then Anglo Russian cooperation has been in the deep freeze.
Litvinenko’s wife accuses Putin of ordering her husband’s killing and has called on Londoners to wear a white ribbon in protest during Putin’s visit to the Olympics.
So far the Moscow has refused to extradite the main suspect involved in the case, Andrei Lugovoi – another former spook and now member of Russia’s parliament. Exiled London based Billionaire Boris Berezovsky, an outspoken critic of Putin, also remains a major source of acrimony.
Added to that, the discovery in a Moscow park of the now infamous ‘‘spy-stone’‘ only helped to fuel tensions. It was found to contain equipment used by UK diplomats to receive and send information. The Kremlin accused British agents of using the fake rock to finance certain groups. Soon after, Putin passed new laws prohibiting the funding of NGO’s by foreign governments.
The bloodshed in Syria has become the latest Anglo- Russian flashpoint following Moscow’s refusal, with Beijing to agree to Western attempts to end the crisis. Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague recently described Russia’s decision to veto three resolutions on Syria in the UN Security Council as ‘‘inexcusable’‘.
For Russian exiles living in Britain Putin’s visit is unlikely to be a great source of delight. Some recently rallied outside Russia’s embassy in London insisting he should never have been invited.
Since Prime Minister David Cameron came to power, relations between the two nations appear to have been placed on a more pragmatic footing even if they remain dire. But, despite facing pressure to take a tougher line on Syria, the Russian leader, a former Judo champion and blackbelt shows no sign of buckling. He has already made it clear he and Cameron differ over how to end the violent crackdown in Syria.