MOSCOW (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron holds landmark talks with Russian leaders on Monday, aiming to strengthen business and political ties with Moscow despite a long-running dispute over the murder of a Kremlin critic in London five years ago.
Cameron is due to meet President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Russia’s most powerful man, during a visit of less than 24 hours to Moscow — the first by a British leader since former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko died in London from poisoning by radioactive polonium-210 in 2006.
The visit fits squarely into Cameron’s strategy of trying to bolster Britain’s weak recovery by boosting exports to fast-growing emerging markets such as Russia, India and China.
Cameron is accompanied by a high-powered 24-strong business delegation, including BP Chairman Bob Dudley, Royal Dutch Shell Chief Executive Peter Voser and Rolls-Royce Chairman Simon Robertson.
Cameron’s office said the visit was expected to seal 215 million pounds worth of business deals, creating almost 500 new jobs in Britain and safeguarding thousands more, although it gave no details.
The two countries are expected to agree to strengthen cooperation in civil nuclear energy. That will put British firms in a good position to bid for work on projects with Russian atomic energy agency Rosatom, potentially worth more than one billion pounds, Cameron’s office said.
Russia’s refusal to extradite Andrei Lugovoy, an ex-KGB bodyguard Britain wants to prosecute for Litvinenko’s murder, sent bilateral relations plunging to a post-Cold War low.
“Although our differences in recent years are well known, we face many similar challenges and both the President (Medvedev) and I believe that we can make more progress by working together on matters of real importance for the prosperity and security of people in both countries,” Cameron said in a statement before his trip.
Bad feeling over the issue runs as deep as ever and no progress is expected during the visit on resolving it, or on lifting the sanctions Britain imposed, including halting cooperation with Russia’s security services and suspending talks on speeding up visa issuance.
But the British government is keen to open effective channels of communication to both Medvedev and Putin, to reinforce the position of British business in Russia and to encourage respect for the rule of law and reform in Russia, British government sources say.
Putin, who has not met a British leader since 2007, could become president again after 2012 elections.
Four former British foreign ministers urged Cameron on Sunday to raise human rights cases with Medvedev, including what they called the “politically motivated detention” of business partners Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev and the death in detention of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
“These concerns need to be addressed before business can truly flourish,” the former ministers — Malcolm Rifkind of Cameron’s Conservative Party, and David Miliband, Margaret Beckett and Jack Straw of the opposition Labour Party — wrote in a letter to The Sunday Times.
Cameron is expected to raise the Litvinenko issue and some human rights cases but officials have not specified which ones.
Some 600 British companies operate in Russia and British exports to Russia are up by 63 percent in the first half of this year, according to the British government.
But British firms sometimes encounter problems in Russia. Last month, special forces raided BP’s Moscow offices, a day after U.S. giant ExxonMobil signed a deal giving it access to Russian Arctic oilfields that BP had tried to develop, only for its plans to be scuppered by a legal case.
Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton