U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron may become the first British leader since the 2006 murder of a dissident Russian intelligence agent in London to meet Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin when he travels to Moscow next month.
“Such a possibility is being discussed through diplomatic channels,” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told Bloomberg News in a telephone interview from Moscow yesterday.
Cameron, whose September visit to Russia was announced in May, will travel to the Russian capital in the first half of the month for talks with President Dmitry Medvedev, two people familiar with the planning said. They declined to be identified because the exact timing of the trip isn’t public.
Ex-agent Alexander Litvinenko, a Kremlin critic who died in November 2006 after being poisoned with the radioactive isotope polonium-210, blamed Putin for the murder in a deathbed statement, an accusation the Kremlin called “absurd.”
The killing chilled relations between Russia and the U.K., culminating in the mutual expulsion of diplomats.
It’s “regrettable” that no leader from the U.K., one of the largest foreign investors in Russia, has visited the country in six years, said Chris Gilbert, Russia Director of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce. U.K. companies active in Russia will probably accompany Cameron, he said.
“It’s high time,” he said in a telephone interview yesterday. “I can understand why it didn’t happen before as there have been other things affecting the whole relationship, but it’s very positive that it’s happening now.”
Cameron’s office never comments on his travel plans, said a spokesman who declined to be identified in line with official policy. The Kremlin press service declined to comment on the details of the visit.
In November 2010, U.K. Business Secretary Vince Cable made a three-day visit to Russia with the largest-ever British business delegation. The group was composed of 37 companies, including BP Plc, which has a 50 percent stake in Russia’s third-largest oil producer TNK-BP, Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Rolls-Royce Group Plc, the world’s second-largest aircraft-engine maker.
U.K. companies including BP, Shell, AstraZeneca Plc, Kraft Food Inc.’s Cadbury unit and Kingfisher Plc have invested more than $11 billion ($17.8 billion) in Russia, about 15 percent of total foreign investment in the country, according to the UK Trade and Investment government agency.
‘Top Two Guys’
“Especially with Russia, the dialogue has to be at the very top level,” said Gilbert. “If Cameron comes here, and he has a good, productive period of time with hopefully the top two guys, that will achieve a great deal.”
Russia refused to hand over ex-KGB bodyguard Andrei Lugovoi, who is wanted for Litvinenko’s murder, as the country’s constitution forbids the extradition of Russian citizens.
The dispute sparked the expulsion of four Russian and four U.K. diplomats and Russia’s closure of U.K. cultural offices outside Moscow. The U.K. also froze cooperation with Russia’s Federal Security Service, the domestic successor agency to the KGB.
Former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who took over as British leader in June 2007, never met with Putin during the former president’s tenure, which ended May 2008. Putin, who hasn’t ruled out returning as president in next year’s elections, became prime minister in 2008.
Medvedev met Brown at a Group of Eight industrialized nations’ summit in Japan in 2008, the first such high-level contact since the Litvinenko assassination. He held talks with Cameron at another G-8 summit in France in May this year.
U.K. investigators believe Lugovoi poisoned Litvinenko on Nov. 1, 2006, by putting the radioactive isotope polonium-210 in his tea during a meeting in London’s Millennium Hotel. Lugovoi denies any role in Litvinenko’s death.