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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Beneficial Crisis for All

Judging purely by news reports, there is a serious international crisis in British-Russian relations. For the past two weeks, we have been inundated with newspaper articles on the expulsion of diplomats and the exchange of reproaches and threats. Day after day, television stations have broadcast news conferences by high-ranking officials from both sides who discuss the question of extraditing Andrei Lugovoi, who is accused by British authorities of poisoning Alexander Litvinenko. The officials' statements have become increasingly overblown -- one would think they were discussing the fate of Europe itself. Russian officials explain that they can't hand over Lugovoi, not because he is a former security services officer, but because the Constitution doesn't allow it.

The Constitution does not allow us to do many things, but, in reality, we do them anyway! Nonetheless, bureaucrats have become amazingly righteous lately in defending the prohibition on extradition provided by the highest law of the land.

Britain, however, has overstepped its bounds by suggesting that if the Constitution is an obstacle to extraditing Lugovoi, then it should be changed -- as if it were that easy!

The call by Britain's Foreign Office to change Russia's Constitution corresponds with the initiative pushed by Russia's most ignorant governors to also change the Constitution. The only difference is that Britain suggested changing the Constitution to meet their own needs, perhaps so that in the future, all foreign secret agents deemed guilty of crimes on British soil could be quickly brought in for interrogation. And Russian bureaucrats and politicians urged constitutional change with a completely different goal: they dream of giving Putin the constitutional basis for serving a third term as president.

Alas, both requests have remained unfulfilled. British investigators will not get Lugovoi's extradition, and the Russian elite will not get a third term for Putin.

The Constitution forbids two things: handing over the country's former secret service agents to foreign powers and the ability to rule for more than eight years in a row. You can see that our legislation is humane and protects the interests of the country.

It just so happens that I needed to apply for a British visa during the height of this diplomatic crisis. From the beginning, I was not all that worried about my chances of getting a visa. I have accumulated so many British visas in my passport that no sane bureaucrat could possibly turn down my application. Still, it was interesting to know how the process had changed.

And I was not the only one interested in how the hot conflict in British-Russian relations might affect the ability of average people to receive a visa to Britain. The average Russian is not all that interested in the Lugovoi case. Nor has he noticed that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has stepped down or heard about his successor, Gordon Brown. But lots of Russians surely want to visit London this summer!

After receiving my visa, I asked the travel agency employee who was handling my documents if there had been any additional problems this time around. "What are you talking about?" she asked me in surprise. "It's the same as usual. It has become even easier to receive visas to Britain. We haven't had a single denial!" she said.

When I reminded her of the international crisis catching so much media attention, she acted even more astonished. She hadn't had time to read the newspaper or watch the news, swamped as she was with visa documents from clients, rushing back and forth between her office and the British Embassy. And there were no signs of any crisis whatsoever at the embassy, she said.

In the end, was there a crisis or not? Did both countries' politicians simply play a joke on us again, forcing us to get all worked up over nothing at all?

When it comes down to it, neither Russian nor British authorities need Andrei Lugovoi. What is most important to both sides is increasing their popularity among voters: Brown must prove his reputation as a firm and principled leader, and State Duma and presidential elections are around the corner in Russia. Moreover, voters need some kind of show, some reason to talk about politics and to reflect deeply about Russia's position in the world. In short, everyone got exactly what they needed from this affair.

At the end of the day, all sides emerged from this crisis satisfied with its outcome, including, of course, Andrei Lugovoi.

Boris Kagarlitsky is the director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.