MP plots new Russian rapprochement

By Alex Stevenson

The new chairman of parliament’s all-party group on Russia has pledged to re-engage “positively” with Moscow.

Liberal Democrat MP Mike Hancock, recently elected chair of the Russia group, has welcomed William Hague’s unusual trip to Moscow to meet president Dmitry Medvedev’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov.

Diplomatic engagement between London and Moscow has been poor in recent years following a series of disagreements. While relations between the respective governments have suffered – David Miliband has not visited Moscow officially for four years – inter-parliamentary relations have suffered too.

“There’s two sides to every story, we’re as bad as they are in the parliamentary neglect of the situation,” he said.

“It’s some while since the parliamentary group has been in Russia. It’s been a while since they’ve been here, officially. We need to rectify that.”

The all-party group on Russia’s history has consistently mirrored that of wider British relations with the country ever since Margaret Thatcher said she could “do business” with Mikhail Gorbachev.

It developed to become “quite a notable force in the Commons” before energy firm Yukos’ Mikhail Kordokovsky began sponsoring trips. His unpopularity with the Russian government, combined with the Foreign Office’s refusal to give resources to the group, led to the group “faltering” for seven or eight years”.

Now, however, Mr Hancock has pledged to begin anew.

“Many of our members have strong Russian connections. We’ve got to harness all of that to try and make the group much more punchy, much more effective. We have to act positively – it’s too easy to be negative about this.”

Mr Hancock is more critical of the government’s hardline stance towards Moscow than he is of Russia’s behaviour in recent years.

“You have to see the all-embracing problem that you can’t ignore the biggest country in Europe,” he added.

“The Germans, the French, the Italians, the Scandinavians, haven’t adopted this attitude. The only country seen to take such a hard line against the Russian authorities is the United Kingdom.

“You cannot ignore them. You have to engage.”