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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

End bear-baiting now

This piece of mine appears on the Guardian's Comment is Free website

Bear-baiting in Britain was banned nearly 200 years ago. Someone obviously didn't tell Britain's new Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who yesterday ordered the expulsion of four Russian diplomats from Britain. Miliband is annoyed that Russia refuses to extradite ex-KGB agent Andrei Lugovoi, wanted to stand trial for the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. But Russia is also annoyed that Britain repeatedly refuses to extradite the billionaire oligarch Boris Berezovsky, charged with embezzling millions of dollars from the Russian national airline Aeroflot. (A trial of the Aeroflot case started in Berezovsky's absence in Moscow last week.)

Those who believe the charges against Berezovsky are politically motivated should reflect that the same man is also wanted by the authorities in Brazil for alleged money laundering. To claim that the Brazilian authorities' arrest warrant was "an extension of the Kremlin's politicised campaign" as Berezovsky has done, is clearly absurd.

Rather than indulging in moves that can only make the situation worse, the British foreign secretary should instead be on the telephone to President Putin, to make him an offer. The terms would be simple: Alexander Lugovoi is sent on the next plane from Moscow to London to stand trial for the murder in Britain, while Berezovsky is flown out to Rio to answer the charges against him in Brazil. This might be bad news for Bell Pottinger Public Affairs, Lord Tim Bell's PR company which has represented Mr Berezovksy and the oligarch's defenders in the British press but in the interests of both justice - and British-Russian relations - it is the only solution that makes any sense. Berezovsky's supporters have long argued that their man would not receive a fair trial in Putin's Russia. But what possible objections can they have to Berezovsky facing the rap in Brazil? Do they believe that the billionaire has a divine right never to appear in a court of law anywhere? It surely cannot be right that a single individual of, shall we say, controversially acquired wealth and who has called openly for the forceful overthrow of his country's elected government is allowed to sour relations between Britain and Russia, to the great detriment of both countries.

Of course Berezovsky and his influential supporters would much prefer if the British government carried on expelling Russian diplomats and in doing so provoke a new cold war with the Kremlin. But bear-baiting has already been banned once. As a serious policy option, it's time it was kicked into touch once again.

UPDATE: Surprise, surprise: Boris Berezovsky's right-hand man Alex Goldfarb has been handed over the opinion page in the Daily Telegraph today to denounce Moscow's line.


David Lindsay said...

NATO should have been wound up in 1991, and it is only to be expected that Russia is furious, not only at its continued existence (which is bad enough), but even more so at its outrageous expansion to within one hundred miles of Saint Petersburg.

Why has this happened, if not to menace Russia, which can in fact switch off our gas for so long as we refuse to have anything like enough civil nuclear power, and which is therefore is a position to view us, not as a threatening menace, but, much more dangerously from our point of view, as merely a tiresome and impertinent menace?

Instead, we should be cultivating Russia’s sense of herself as an integral part of the Biblical-Classical civilisation that is the West, as that civilisation’s bridge both to the Islamic world and to the Far East, and as its bulwark against either Islamic or Far Eastern domination, a mission shared with all the Slavs.

David Lindsay said...

You might like to know that the following comment absolutely cannot be posted on any CiF article about Russia (not for want of trying):

"If Akhmed Zakayev and Boris Berezovsky are not being extradited from Britain to Russia, then why should Russia extradite anyone to Britain?

Berezovsky is even permitted to travel on a British passport using the assumed name Platon Elenin, in order to visit the former Soviet Union stirring up support for a coup in Russia.

And Zakayev, like the Chechen separatists generally, is an important example of how neoconservatism is not in any sense hostile to "militant Islam" (the only kind that there can be), but in fact hand-in-glove with it: in Chechnya, Kosovo, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Turkey today, just as in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and just as in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

NATO should have been wound up...[as above]"