Envoy Says Russia and Britain Can Repair Ties

LONDON Russia's ambassador to London voiced optimism that "limited damage" done to ties by the murder of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko in Britain could easily be repaired given mutual goodwill.

"Discussions are on, on how to overcome the current crisis in political relations which indeed was provoked by the fact that the British government decided to overreact politically on the Litvinenko case," Ambassador Yury Fedotov said in an interview Friday.

Relations between Britain and Russia slid after the November 2006 poisoning in London of Litvinenko. Since then, the British government's cultural wing, the British Council, has been forced to halt its activities in two Russian cities. Moscow said it was operating illegally.

"We need to see what we can resolve and what we can repair in terms of this damage, which affected our political bilateral relations," Fedotov said. "But it was limited damage, so I think that it can be easily repaired provided that there is a goodwill."

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met British Foreign Minister David Miliband in London on May 1, and President Dmitry Medvedev and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown agreed in a phone call May 11 to meet on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit in Japan in July, Fedotov said.

"So there are some prospects of stage-by-stage, step-by-step developments, which would allow [Britain and Russia] to resume high-level political dialogue in all areas," said Fedotov, a former deputy foreign minister.

Fedotov held out Russia's decision to waive the visa requirement for thousands of British fans traveling to Moscow for this week's Champions League final as a gesture of goodwill.

Fedotov said Moscow hoped for a resumption of talks on easing visa rules that were halted by Britain last year in the wake of the Litvinenko affair. That could open the way for an agreement on cultural centers that would provide the legal basis that Russia says the British Council needs to operate in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg.

"This agreement will also allow us to open a cultural center in London [and] maybe in other cities of the U.K.," Fedotov said.

Fedotov warned, however, that if relations between Moscow and London deteriorated further, the question could arise of closing the British Council office in Moscow, which has so far been allowed to continue to operate.