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UK ambassador gives interview to Russian radio ahead of G8 summit

BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union

Russia is a "regular member" of the G8, despite concerns over several matters such as the Yukos controversy and the NGOs issue, UK ambassador to Russia Anthony Brenton has said in a wide-ranging interview on Russian Ekho Moskvy radio. In his comments on what is likely to be discussed at the G8 summit in St Petersburg, he called for greater trust in the area of energy security and urged a single approach on, and a clear signal to, North Korea. He said that Russia had much to gain from a strong civil society. He also said that the UK was willing to help Russian prosecutors understand the level of proof needed to secure extraditions from Great Britain. Discussed also were the WTO, the financial G7, aspects of human rights and the question of Kosovo's independence, which he said is "completely different" from questions over the status of Georgia's breakaway republics. The following are excerpts from the interview broadcast on Ekho Moskvy on 7 July; subheadings have been added editorially:

[Presenter Aleksey Venediktov] Good evening again. Together with Nargiz Asadova from Kommersant-Vlast, I would like to welcome Anthony Russell Brenton, the United Kingdom's extraordinary and plenipotentiary ambassador to Russia, to the studio. Good day Mr Brenton.

[Brenton, speaking in Russian throughout] Good day.

London bombings anniversary

[Venediktov] I remind listeners that today is 7 July, exactly a year since the awful terrorist attack shook London's underground. Fifty-six people died. And a great number of our listeners have sent messages by pager and via the Internet expressing solidarity, Mr Ambassador.

[Brenton] Yes, it is a very sad anniversary. I have been struck by the support we have received from the population here in Russia. This shows that we must work together to fight terrorism and this is how we are trying to work with your embassy.

[Venediktov] And there have been many questions asking what lessons the UK - the British government, politicians and special services - learnt from this terrible tragedy.

[Brenton] We have just recently had the report on this tragedy. And the conclusions in this report were quite technical. We need to improve cooperation between the police and the fire service and so on. We need to improve the police's radio communications, etc. It seems that, overall, our response to the tragedy was successful, but next time, although I hope to God there will not be a next time, we will be able to further improve our response.

Human rights and combating terrorism

[Venediktov] It's well-known that the fight against terrorism presumes some kind of restriction on the freedoms of ordinary citizens. When I was in London, one Scotland Yard police officer told me that if you go on the London underground, then even if you only travel one stop then your photograph will be taken 14 times.

[Brenton] Yes, probably. In the UK constant debates continue about how much we should restrict the freedoms of citizens in general, in order to step up the fight against terrorism. This debate needs to be held openly. We have new laws on this and some of these laws were not passed because our judges did not approve them. It seems to me that we need to improve the way we fight terrorism, but also keep our fundamental rights.

[Asadova] You know, Russia is also currently fighting against terrorism and now the Russian president is considering a bill which would grant the right to eliminate terrorists and their accomplices abroad. Well, Russia considers [Chechen separatist envoy] Akhmed Zakayev and [exiled tycoon] Boris Berezovskiy to be terrorists. What do you think about them being eliminated on British territory?

[Brenton] I am certain that, on UK territory, the Russian authorities will act within UK law. It is up to Russia, and not us, to decide what Russia's overall response to terrorism will be.

[Asadova] And, under the law, do UK special services have the right to eliminate terrorists on foreign territory?

[Brenton] I would prefer not to discuss how our special services operate.

Trust needed to ensure energy security

[Asadova] Yes, well let us turn to the issue of the G8. Terrorism will be discussed at the summit, along with the issue of energy security. And this is the main issue which Russia has put forward for discussion. What do you understand by energy security? What is it?

[Brenton] It seems to me that this is a very important issue for us. After the cut-off of the supply of gas to Ukraine at the end of last year it was clear that there was a loss of trust between the West and Russia on this issue. And we need to change this situation. We are importing more and more gas from Russia, while you are exporting more and more gas to us. In order to create strong links, we have to have as much trust as possible in each other. And I very much hope that during this summit we will be able to agree on the principles that will lead to a further increase in the level of mutual trust.

[Venediktov] Do you think that the idea of transferring some of [Russia's] oil and gas exports to the East, to China and Japan, is energy blackmail, as one English gentleman put it?

[Brenton] No, no. Russia can export its gas to wherever it wants. Currently, there are only pipelines in one direction - Europe. Perhaps five to 10 years would be needed to build pipelines to the East. We have no right to judge whether this is good for Russia or not, it is up to Russia to decide this. In the final reckoning, gas supplies are decided by the market. This is not a political decision, it is an economic decision. As I said, we need to restore trust between the West, Europe, and Russia on this issue. I think this is possible and I am sure that our very profitable links in the gas sector will continue and expand.

Clear signal to North Korea needed

[Asadova] What three fundamental world threats would you put forward for discussion at the G8 summit?

[Brenton] For us, the UK, this would be the development of poorer countries, climate change and, also, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

You know that, during our summit last year in Gleneagles, we spoke an awful lot about climate change and development, particularly in Africa. And your government, Russia, will continue this work during the summit here. On the issue of weapons of mass destruction, there is the clear problem of Iran, which we need to resolve together.

[Venediktov] It seems that a common approach has been found and common positions have been set out on Iran, here I mean between the six intermediating countries or the countries of the G8. But at the summit, the issue of North Korea will also arise. And here we see that the UK has sponsored a draft resolution in the UN Security Council demanding sanctions, but Russia and China are against this. Here there is no point of common agreement, as there is on Iran.

[Brenton] We have a common strategy. We are all opposed to the development of nuclear weapons in North Korea. We need to agree on our tactics. And the discussion in the UN Security Council is the process of deciding these tactics.

[Asadova] And why do you consider sanctions to be the correct way of dealing with North Korea? Perhaps it should be expelled from the UN altogether.

[Brenton] Currently this discussion is continuing in New York and we have our approach to the problem. But this is a new problem. So far we have not discussed this problem in the Security Council. We need to find out the opinions of other council members and we need to find agreement on the most important thing, to agree on a single approach, a single clear signal to North Korea, which will tell North Korea that it cannot continue on this path.

Russia a "regular member" of G8

[Asadova] Very often, on the issues of the Iranian nuclear problem or the Korean missile launches, Russia does not take the same attitude as the other G8 members. It takes a completely opposing position. In addition, the West now quite frequently criticizes Russia for breaking with democratic values. So, in the light of this, do you consider Russia to be a full member of the G8 or not?

[Brenton] Yes. Russia is a regular member of the G8.

Democracy has only existed in Russia for 15 years. Of course the path towards creating a democracy like the one we have in the UK is very difficult. We have 150 years' history of democracy at least, maybe more. Of course there have been several incidents in Russia that have caused us concern, for example, the Khodorkovskiy case, the Yukos affair, the problem of your law on NGOs. I very much hope that during your summit Mr Putin will be able to explain this approach to democracy, his thinking, how he will resolve these problems and, as he has already said, Russia will continue along a democratic path.

Russia needs strong civil society

[Venediktov] Recently Mr [Igor] Shuvalov, the Russian president's G8 sherpa, said in an interview that the presence of foreign delegations or officials at The Other Russia forum [forum for opposition parties and social activists on 11-12 July], which [changes tack] don't sigh Mr Ambassador, don't sigh!

[Asadova] This is your democracy.

[Venediktov] Yes, this is your democracy. This would be seen as an unfriendly step towards Russia [Shuvalov said]. Nevertheless, you plan to attend.

[Asadova] And even speak.

[Venediktov] Yes. Why did you take this decision? Why are you doing this on the eve of the [G8] summit?

[Brenton] Mr Shuvalov is my friend. I spoke to him after his statement on this. He told me that he had nothing against my attending this meeting. I am not taking part in this meeting in order to interfere in Russia's internal politics, that is not my place. I am going there to show the UK's support for civil society as a whole. Many of your civil organizations will be there. I will speak a little, I will say that in the strongest, most effective, richest societies there is a very strong, rich, energetic civil society. It is in Russia's interests that such a society develops here, like the one we have, like the one that exists in France, Germany and the USA.

Russian membership of financial G7 depends on economic development

[Asadova] So you are saying that Russia is a full member of the G8?

[Venediktov] Regular, he said. Ordinary.

[Brenton] But we are all ordinary. The UK is also an ordinary member. [Laughter]

[Venediktov] Well, that's what I meant.

[Asadova] Nevertheless, Russia is the only G8 member that doesn't take part in the summit of finance ministers. Why is this?

[Venediktov] And when will it?

[Brenton] Well, the seven finance ministers represent the seven largest economies in the world. Russia is not in this group. But Russia is a very influential member of the world community on political issues and, therefore, Russia naturally is at the table, among the members of the G8, in order to discuss such issues.

[Venediktov] Do you think that the Russian finance minister will be able to take part in the finance ministers' summit in the foreseeable future? Or is this quite a long way off?

[Brenton] I am certain this will happen in the future, but it depends on Russia's economic growth. It depends on when Russia becomes rich enough to constructively take part in these discussions.

[Asadova] And what formal targets must Russia achieve so that it will be accepted into this financial club?

[Brenton] There are no formal targets. You know that other countries, China and India, are also developing alongside Russia, so there is also the question of when they will become members of this group.

[Venediktov] Exactly.

[Brenton] What do you mean, exactly?

[Venediktov] Well that was the question I asked you. [Laughter]

[Asadova] Yes, you got round that question well. It's true that China and India are becoming very powerful.

[Venediktov] And Brazil.

[Asadova] Yes, Brazil too. Why are they not included in the [hesitates] G8?

[Venediktov and Brenton] G10, G13, who knows?

[Brenton] This depends. Currently they are not demanding this. And of course there is caution. The G8 has its traditions, it is used to working together. Of course there will be changes, but currently there is a little wariness. As I said, India and China are not asking for this. We are all watching how the situation will develop, how these economies develop, how political relations between us develop. But it is clear that at the world's top table, not just Russia, not just the UK, will have to be present, but also China and India.

[Asadova] But they are already present. They are already invited as observers to G8 summits.

[Brenton] Not just observers. There are G8 sessions at which China, India, Brazil and others participate. And this is important. For example, the problem of climate change can never be solved without the participation of China, India, Brazil and so on. They must take part in the discussion and take part in implementing the decisions.

WTO membership

[Venediktov] One more thing. You said that during the last summit in the UK discussion focused on poverty, particularly in Africa. Recently, President Putin said that simply automatically writing off the debts of poor countries is not a solution to the problem. It is not possible to just keep writing off debts. Something concrete needs to be done, but it is not clear what.

[Brenton] Yes, the cancelling of debts is direct financial help, but it seems to me that the most important thing is to reduce obstacles to trade, reduce obstacles to investment in Africa. The Doha round of talks that is continuing now is very important. The aim of this round is to reduce these obstacles to trade and investment. I can also add that another important aim is for Russia to become a member of the World Trade Organization, so that it fully can take part in these discussions, to make a full contribution to this world effort to reduce poverty in Africa and other countries.

[Venediktov] You have again touched on the issue of the WTO. And the USA is the only country that hasn't signed an agreement [on joining the WTO] with Russia.

[Brenton] Yet.

[Venediktov] Alright, yet. Does anyone have anything else to add? [Brenton laughs] At the summit, before the summit, after the summit there could be an agreement. But there is one important issue, which must also be of concern to the UK. This is the issue of intellectual property, the issue of compliance. And I know there are also problems between Russia and the UK here.

[Brenton] Yes, I know. But they tell me that during your talks with America, Russia gave several guarantees about how it would fight against intellectual piracy. I am sure these guarantees will be sufficient for us too. I know that you in Russia have a very high level of technology and a very high level of intellectualism. You also have an enormous interest in protecting intellectual property rights. It seems to me that [one of the fastest] growing shares in intellectual property will belong to Russian intellectual property.

Extradition from UK decided by judiciary

[Venediktov] Let's address our usual questions as we're nearing the end of our conversation. You know, the traditional question. Yesterday, as I understand it, you made a statement [during an interview on Russian Mayak radio] inviting a group of Russian prosecutors to come to England to try to achieve the extradition of people wanted by Russia: Mr Zakayev, Mr Berezovskiy. I nearly said Mr [Roman] Abramovich, but he still returns on his own stream. [Brenton laughs] But if the England [football] team loses again you will extradite him to us yourselves. What was the idea behind this?

[Brenton] A traditional question - a traditional answer. The decision on the extradition of Zakayev and Berezovskiy is not made by the British government, it is made by our judiciary, the independent judiciary. But, of course, you are having problems getting Zakayev extradited, for example. Perhaps, if your authorities had a better understanding of our system, they would take a better approach in their attempts to extradite Zakayev. We are willing to explain our system, the level of proof needed to extradite someone. This of course may be useful to you, not you personally, but your authorities.

[Venediktov] It's also useful to me, because it's useful to everyone.

[Brenton] Useful to everybody. Exactly.

Moscow gay pride parade ban an internal affair

[Venediktov] Good. I have a whole load of questions from our listeners. For example, our listener Maks asks: Recently in London there was the love parade [gay pride parade] and London mayor Ken Livingstone even spoke there. In Russia, Moscow's mayor banned such a parade. Do you think this is right? We are an independent democracy after all.

[Brenton] Independent democracy is a complicated term. But we believe that civil organizations should be free to hold parades where they want, to express their opinions on life. This is normal in our country. The situation in your country is different. We regulate a few parades, for example in Ireland where there is danger when Protestants hold parades in Catholic areas. This is for each country to decide - which parades are safe and can be allowed and which parades are too dangerous and should be banned.

[Passage omitted: Discussion of football World Cup. Brenton says he would like to see Russia and England in the 2010 final.]

Kosovo issue "completely different" to Abkhazia, South Ossetia

[Venediktov] There is one more very serious question from our listeners which I missed. It arises from yesterday's interview [webcast] by President Putin. Do you view the problem of Kosovo in the same way as the problems of Abkhazia and South Ossetia? Are they identical issues and should we approach them in the same way, as the president believes? Or are they different problems, as others may believe?

[Brenton] They are not identical. There will not be a solution to the problem of Kosovo without a UN Security Council resolution, which sets out international law on this issue. On the subject of Abkhazia, the Security Council has already said that the integrity of Georgia must be maintained. These problems are completely different from a legal point of view.

[Venediktov] Do you predict that Kosovo is more likely to become independent in one way or another or more likely to remain part [of Serbia]?

[Brenton] It's not my job to solve the problem of Kosovo, thank God. But it is evident that the majority of the Kosovan population really want independence.

[Venediktov] That's all. That was Anthony Brenton, UK ambassador.

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