Brenton's Successor Not New To Russia

ReutersAnne Pringle
Britain on Friday named a career diplomat with extensive experience in Eastern Europe as its next ambassador to Russia.

Anne Pringle, a former ambassador to the Czech Republic who worked at the British Embassy in Moscow during the Cold War, will replace Ambassador Anthony Brenton when his four-year assignment expires in October, the British Foreign Office announced Friday.

Pringle, 53, is set to become Britain's first female ambassador to Russia, and her appointment comes at a time of tense relations between the two countries.

"I am delighted and honored to be taking up this appointment," Pringle said by e-mail Friday.

A Foreign Office spokesman said Friday that Britain hopes bilateral relations will improve after President-elect Dmitry Medvedev takes office in May.

"We hope Medvedev will embark on a fresh start in his relations with us. We want to improve our relationship," the spokesman said on customary condition of anonymity. "With a new president taking office, we hope to see greater Anglo-Russian cooperation on a number of issues."

Relations between London and Moscow deteriorated sharply following the death of former Federal Security Service officer Alexander Litvinenko from radiation poisoning in November 2006 in London. Russia refuses to extradite top suspect Andrei Lugovoi, while Britain has refused repeated Russian requests to extradite self-exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky.

The British Council, the cultural arm of the British Embassy, has also run afoul of the Kremlin and said it was forced to close its St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg offices in January because of security concerns for its staff.

Last week, the FSB announced that it had detained an employee of Russian-British oil venture TNK-BP on suspicion of espionage. TNK-BP subsequently said all foreign employees assigned to the firm by British energy major BP had been suspended because of newly arisen visa problems.

Activists from the Kremlin-backed youth group Nashi hounded Brenton in 2006 after he took part in an August conference of The Other Russia opposition coalition focusing on civil society.

Nashi regularly staged noisy protests outside the British Embassy, which filed a complaint with the Foreign Ministry over intimidation aimed at Brenton.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov ultimately met with Nashi leaders to ask them to tone down their activities.

Brenton, who arrived in Moscow in 2004 and will retire from diplomatic service in October, said in a statement Friday that Pringle would do a "wonderful job" as ambassador.

"On a personal level I shall be sad to leave a country which, regardless of the ups and downs of diplomacy, my family and I will certainly miss," Brenton said.

"But my departure will not be for another six months," Brenton said. "And during those six months I have a job to do. So for the remainder of my time here I shall continue to work towards promoting closer bilateral ties between our two countries."

Pringle, who served as private secretary to two British ambassadors to the Soviet Union from 1980 to 1983, will come to Moscow following a 3-year posting as the head of the Foreign Office's strategy and information department, which deals with the overall direction of British foreign policy.

She worked in Brussels periodically from 1986 to 1991 with the European Political Cooperation Secretariat, where she moved from a San Francisco-based British trade and investment office.

Pringle held various Foreign Office posts from 1994 to 2001, after which she served as ambassador to the Czech Republic until 2004.

In interview she gave to the BBC during her posting in Prague, Pringle said her extensive study of Russian had helped her learn Czech.

Friday's announcement came sooner than expected because Russia had quickly approved Pringle's appointment, a British embassy spokesman said on condition of anonymity.