The United Kingdom’s relations with Russia Contents


1.Russia matters.1 It is the largest country in the world by surface area spanning Europe and Asia, and it is the ninth largest country in the world by population.2 Its territory contains globally significant reserves of oil and gas. It has a rich culture that produced Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky and Pushkin. It is a Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council. It deploys capable conventional armed forces, has full-spectrum nuclear weapons capability and is a cyber and space power. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) description of Russia as “a strategically important country for the UK” is a blinding glimpse of the obvious.3

2.The bilateral diplomatic relationship between the UK and Russia is at its most strained point since the end of the Cold War.4 This is the result of a succession of crises and disagreements since the mid-2000s, including the murder of British citizen Alexander Litvinenko by polonium poisoning and subsequent inquest into his death, the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia, cyber-attacks and hybrid warfare threats to NATO countries, the 2014 annexation of Crimea and conflict in eastern Ukraine, Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war and Russia’s attempts to subvert democracy and to interfere in referendums and elections in some European countries and in the United States.5 FCO Minister Sir Alan Duncan told us that “There is no doubt that, using modern technology, they [Russia] are interfering in many parts of the world. We also saw it in Montenegro, where there was a very serious interference—I think undeniably Russian inspired, if I can put it that way—in the democratic process”.6 Sir Tim Barrow added that Russia was responsible for “threats that we must be robust in defending ourselves against. We need to make sure that there is unity within NATO and within the west generally.”7

3.Sir Alan Duncan MP, Minister of State for Europe and the Americas at the FCO, told us Russia is

doing things of which we disapprove and of which we should disapprove. I think they are a growing cyber threat; some of their public comments stray rather far from the truth; their challenge to the territorial integrity of Ukraine is not acceptable; they have annexed Crimea, and the prosecution of the conflict in Aleppo is unacceptable.8

4.Russia’s Ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko, lamented “the present political alienation between our two countries” and “the sorry state” of UK-Russia relations in written evidence to this inquiry.9 However, Ambassador Yakovenko blamed the deterioration in the relationship primarily on “the British position due to the Ukrainian crisis” and the UK’s subsequent decision to suspend most mechanisms for diplomatic co-operation.10

5.Some of the issues underpinning the erosion of UK-Russia relations have recently been explored by the House of Commons Defence Committee and the House of Lords EU Affairs Sub-Committee on External Relations.11 The Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) last examined the UK-Russia relationship a decade ago, in 2007, focusing on the security dimension and noting the “serious deterioration” already under way in bilateral relations.12 That deterioration has continued, even as the geopolitical and economic context of UK-Russia relations has changed.

6.This deterioration in relations provided the background to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s December 2015 decision to launch an inquiry on the UK’s relations with Russia. The terms of reference included:

7.The FAC conducted six oral evidence sessions between May and December 2016 to inform our inquiry. At those sessions, we discussed the UK-Russia relationship with academics, journalists, commentators and critics who advanced a broad range of views. In addition, we took evidence from representatives of the Russian media who are active in the UK. In our final oral evidence session, we heard from the Minister of State for Europe and the Americas, Sir Alan Duncan MP—the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Minister with responsibility for UK-Russia relations—and FCO civil servants. We thank everyone who took the time to contribute oral and/or written evidence.

8.We visited Russia in May 2016, when we travelled to Moscow and St Petersburg. We met Russian Ministers, politicians, civil servants, business leaders, civil society representatives, directors of culture and people who work in the Russian media. We also met diplomats from a range of other nations and British businesspeople who work in Russia. We thank HM Ambassador to Russia, Dr Laurie Bristow, HM Consul General in St Petersburg, Mr Keith Allan, and their respective teams for taking the time to facilitate our visit.

9.Bearing in mind Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, we visited Ukraine in October 2016, where we met Ukrainian Ministers, politicians, civil servants and civil society representatives. We thank HM Ambassador to Ukraine, Ms Judith Gough, and her team for their support in Kiev. In addition to participating in meetings in Kiev, we also travelled to the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. We visited Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, where we met local government leaders, Ukrainian security forces, displaced people and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitors. We thank the Ukraine-UK Friendship Group in the Ukraine Parliament and the Ukrainian Ambassador to the UK, Natalia Galibarenko, for their help in organising this visit.

10.We appointed Sarah Lain, Research Fellow, Royal United Services Institute, as Specialist Adviser to our inquiry.13 We thank the Specialist Adviser for her input. Her insight into Russian affairs meant that she made a valuable contribution throughout this inquiry.

1 Russia is known officially as the Russian Federation. The Constitution of the Russian Federation states that “The names Russian Federation and Russia shall be equal”. For the sake of convenience, the term “Russia” is used throughout this Report.

2 The World Bank, Russia, accessed 10 February 2017

3 Foreign and Commonwealth Office (RUS0011) para 4

4 Foreign and Commonwealth Office (RUS0011) paras 8–13

5 Russia has reportedly interfered in the internal affairs of several sovereign nations. “Russia plotted to overthrow Montenegro’s government by assassinating Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic last year, according to senior Whitehall sources”, The Telegraph, 19 February 2017; “Barroso criticises Russian interference on Ukraine deal”, BBC News, 29 November 2013; Marine Le Pen’s links to Russia under US scrutiny, The Telegraph, 21 December 2016; “Russia is preying on Bulgaria’s next President”, Politico, 11 May 2016; “CIA concludes Russia interfered to help Trump win election”, The Guardian, 10 December 2016

6 Q340 [Sir Alan Duncan]

7 Q341 [Sir Tim Barrow]

8 Q331

9 Russian Embassy (RUS0037) introduction

10 Russian Embassy (RUS0037) section 1

11 Defence Committee, First Report of Session 2016–17, Russia: Implications for UK defence and security, HC 107; European Union Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2014–15, The EU and Russia: before and beyond the crisis in Ukraine, HL Paper 115

12 Foreign Affairs Committee, Second Report of Session 2007–08, Global Security: Russia, HC 51, para 4

13 On Tuesday 5 January 2016, Sarah Lain was appointed Specialist Adviser to the Foreign Affairs Committee for the UK’s relations with Russia inquiry. She had no declarable interests in relation to this role.

28 February 2017