Why Cameron got a chilly reception in Moscow
Talking Point: the Cold War might be over, but Britain should be wary of getting into bed with its old enemy
DAVID CAMERON'S visit to Russia - the first by a British prime minister in six years - was a pragmatic attempt to repair the strained relationship between two former Cold War enemies. But Russia might view it as an admission of weakness on our part.
Hopes of rapprochement
When David Cameron's told a group of Russian students his anecdote about a KGB attempt to recruit him when he was a student in Russia, the humour was "lost in translation", says Oliver Wright in the Independent. "But the mood of the trip was better than most had hoped for."
Snubs were feared, but in the end the visit passed without incident. "There were no breakthroughs on difficult issues, but no one expected there would be. What they did get was a strong signal that Russia wants to build a stronger relationship with Britain."
Admission of weakness
Well, Britain was certainly keen on the relationship, says Simon Tisdall in the Guardian. David Cameron's call in Moscow for a "new approach based on co-operation" revealed the prime minister's pragmatic side. Britain needs the business and that's why Cameron wants to put an end to the "tit-for-tat politics" of the recent past. But Putin, Russia's "dominant, domineering leader", will probably interpret it as "a no-trousers admission of political and economic weakness".
It hardly seems worth the £215m in trade deals and 500 British jobs that Downing Street reckons it has got out of the trip. Britain should be wary of getting into bed with Putin's autocracy. "If the EU took a stronger, unified stand on issues of democratic principle in Russia, perhaps the Kremlin might take notice," says Tisdall. But the trend has been for a German and French collaboration approach. "Britain was more or less alone in making a stand against Putinism. Now Cameron has shuffled into line."
Spy games continue
But the ongoing row over the murder of the Russian spy Litvinenko has overshadowed this visit, says Ben Macintyre in the Times. Russia believes Britain is "stuck in a cultural time warp, still fighting the secret battles of the Cold War" and obsessed with seeing Russian spies around every corner. Yet Litvinenko's murder, and Moscow's refusal to extradite the man suspected of killing him, is only one aspect of "a new round of muscle-flexing by an emboldened Russian intelligence service".
The ideological impetus might have changed, writes Macintyre, but Russia, with a former KGB officer at the helm, "is currently engaged in a serious intelligence assault on the West". It's fitting that the film adaptation of John le Carre's classic Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy coincided with Cameron's visit. "Cameron needs Smiley more than ever". ·
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