The United Kingdom’s relations with Russia Contents

5Future engagement


161.Although political relations between the UK and Russia have experienced a severe decline, cultural relations remain healthy. For example, the Cosmonauts exhibition at the British Science Museum in spring 2016, which explored the cultural, scientific and historical context to Russian space exploration and featured some artefacts that had previously been classified and some that had never left Russia. The exhibition was critically acclaimed and extremely popular. In addition, the co-operation between the museum and the Russian Government allowed British astronaut Tim Peake to unveil the Russian Soyuz TMA-19M capsule in which he flew to and from the International Space Station in December 2015 and June 2016. The capsule is now on display at the museum for public viewing. Similarly, the spring 2016 exhibition of British portrait painting at the Tretyakov gallery in Moscow caught the imagination of the Russian public, and the current Royal Academy exhibition of Russian Revolutionary art seems likely to do the same for the British public. Dr Monaghan highlighted the “sympathy for British culture, British literature and the British way of doing things at a popular or societal level”.223

162.The UK Space Agency and UK-based space companies work independently and through the European Space Agency (ESA) with Russia and its space agency, Roscosmos. Such collaboration was notable in the case of Tim Peake’s Principia mission in 2015 and 2016. Given the recent significant growth in the UK space sector, including plans to build a domestic spaceport, greater co-operation with Russia and Roscosmos, as well as with other international organisations such as NASA, the ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, could be highly beneficial to the sector and to the wider UK economy.

163.British and Russian charities and organisations also collaborate on conservation. For example, British environmental charities the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the RSPB are collaborating with Birds Russia and Moscow Zoo in a project to protect the spoon-billed sandpiper, an endangered species which breeds in Russia.224

164.The British Council, which has operated in Moscow since 1959, describes its ambition as “to promote ‘a friendly knowledge and understanding’ between the people of the UK and Russia, making a positive contribution to both UK and Russian agendas and, through this, making a lasting difference to the UK’s security, prosperity and influence.”225 They noted in their evidence to this inquiry that

Research by Ipsos MORI for the British Council in 2011 found that in Russia there was a 21 percentage point increase in net trust in people from the UK if Russians had been involved in cultural activities with the UK (studying in the UK, involvement in joint projects with the UK or attending a cultural event organised by a UK institution) (Trust Pays, British Council, 2012).226

165.However, we note that financial constraints may make it increasingly difficult for the British Council to fulfil its ambitions in Russia. The British Council’s non-Official Development Assistance (ODA) grant is due to fall to £0 from 2019–2020 onwards.227 As Russia is not an ODA-eligible country, the British Council will have to rely on commercial funding and partnerships for its programmes. This is a cause for concern, given the importance of cultural relations in sustaining links between Russia and the UK despite the strained political climate. The UK Government should reconsider the decrease in its grant to the British Council for its work in Russia, given the valuable work that the British Council does.

Drug abuse and cheating in sport

166.The London 2012 Olympics were “corrupted on an unprecedented scale” by Russia’s Government and sports authorities, who colluded to ensure its sports stars were able to take a cocktail of banned performance-enhancing drugs while evading doping tests.228 A 144-page report by the Richard McLaren on behalf of the World Anti-Doping Agency found that more than 1,000 Russians athletes across more than 30 sports, including football, were involved in or benefited from state-sponsored doping between 2011 and 2015. McLaren called it “a cover-up that operated on an unprecedented scale” and pointed the finger at the Russian Ministry of Sport, the Russian security services and the Russian anti-doping agency for creating what he described as “an institutional conspiracy across summer, winter and Paralympic sports”.229

World Cup 2018

167.Russia will host the FIFA World Cup in 2018. The Committee remains concerned, given Russia’s questionable record in relation to human rights, the rule of law and state-sponsored doping, about whether Russia is a suitable host for the World Cup. Serious continuing consideration should be given by FIFA to whether Russia remains a suitable host for the World Cup. However, it is probable that at least one of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales will qualify for that tournament, in which case thousands of UK nationals are likely to visit Russia in the summer of 2018. We note that when England played Russia in Marseilles at the European Championships 2016, Russian fans fought running battles with England supporters.230

168.With respect to the World Cup 2018, the FCO should:

The FCO should use this tournament and others to enhance and repair the wider relationship between the UK and Russia, rather than boycott sport in response to other strained aspects of UK-Russia relations.

FCO resources

169.Multiple witnesses to our inquiry highlighted the FCO’s reduced capacity to understand Russia since the end of the Cold War. This point was also identified in the Lords Report on EU-Russia Relations in 2015 and the Defence Committee Report in 2016.231 Dr Monaghan stated that

for the past 25 years Russia has not been a priority, so resources have been wound down on it. There are still some resources and they are generally focused on civil society and democracy, because that is where the funding has been. There are very few people who are expert on the Russian economy, even fewer who are expert on the Russian military and fewer still—we can count on one hand—who are real experts on the Russian security system.232

170.Dr Averre commented on the resources that the FCO currently commits to analysing Russian actions and motivations:

the Eastern Research Group [ … ] is staffed by excellent people who stay in the group for many years. They have a tremendous amount of knowledge about Russia—I would say on an academic level—but there is something like five or six of them dealing with the entire post-Soviet space less the Baltic states. They are looking at politics, political economy, security and so on. That seems to me to be pretty woeful. They engage with academia and the expert community—they try their best—but that is laughable really.233

171.Dr Averre also commented on Ministry of Defence resources in relation to Russia:

I was at the Ministry of Defence two or three years ago with a couple of colleagues talking to the defence economics department. A chap who had been there for 25 years, who joined at a time when there was something like two dozen people looking at the Soviet defence industry, defence capabilities and defence economy, was the last one working full time on it. He’s since retired [ … ] so the Ministry of Defence is now seriously under-staffed as well.234

172.Dr Monaghan suggested that British policymakers found it difficult to understand the Russian Government’s mind-set:

There is a strong degree of mirror-imaging. The British leadership and many others in western Europe, and perhaps the United States as well, think, as I said, “We wouldn’t do that, so the Russians won’t do that.” The fact that they have come to the decision with a very different rationale and understanding of the evidence means that we tend to get it wrong.235

173.Dr Valentina Feklyunina argued that the UK should build its capacity to understand Russian politics:

Losing this capacity after the collapse of the Soviet Union, or allowing it to shrink, was a very significant mistake. It happened not only in the UK, but in the US and the West more broadly. This is very, very significant, regardless of what is going to happen to the Russian economy. Even if we assume that Russia is a declining power and its role will be less significant, it is still going to be very, very important for quite a long time, so it is extremely important to build this capacity. That goes to the learning of the Russian language, which is an extremely important and problematic issue in the UK at the moment, and it goes to the discussion of Russia more broadly.236

174.The former UK Ambassador to Russia, Sir Roderic Lyne, observed that

Analysis should be the foundation stone of strategic decision-making. During the Cold War the West invested heavily in all-source analysis of the Soviet Union. Information about today’s Russia is much easier to access, but the western analytical capacity and coherence has declined and needs to be rebuilt. EU governments proceed from very different starting points in their approaches to Russia. This is not the Cold War, for many reasons. But we need to define the problem. We need a better common understanding of the Russian adversary—of Russia’s motives, aims, capabilities and points of vulnerability.237

175.Ian Bond of the Centre for European Reform pointed out that the FCO does not have a good record on using the limited expertise that it possesses:

While they are small in number, the FCO already has experts on Russia and the former Soviet Union (as it has on other areas of the world and on key thematic issues) in the form of its Research Analysts. The expertise of Research Analysts was recognised by the Foreign Affairs Committee in its 2011 report on the role of the FCO in UK government. But it is not clear that the views of Research Analysts working on Russia (or on other subjects) reach ministers, particularly in cases where their analysis differs from that of generalist officials in policy departments.238

176.The FCO must once again invest in the analytical capacity to understand Russian decision-making in order to develop effective and informed foreign policy. This should involve engaging with think-tanks and universities that study Russia, recruiting and training FCO Russia specialists and developing Russian language skills in the FCO. The FCO must set out detailed plans on how it will develop its internal capacity and harness external expertise, and how that will feed into policymaking.

Ministerial responsibility

177.Sir Alan Duncan MP is the FCO Minister with responsibility for Russia. In addition to Russia, his responsibilities include the Americas, Europe, NATO, migration, and defence and international security.239 This portfolio includes a significant and diverse array of major challenges for UK foreign policy, particularly in the light of the UK’s forthcoming withdrawal from the EU and changes that may occur due to the new US Presidential Administration.

178.Sir Alan Duncan is an experienced and capable Minister, but the scale of these challenges places an unsustainable level of demand on ministerial time and attention. Understanding this, we welcomed the fact that the Minister of State was accompanied by two of the most senior officials in the FCO when he gave evidence to this inquiry in December 2016, and we were grateful for their participation. However, the evidence session betrayed an uncomfortable lack of clarity about the strategic direction of UK policy towards Russia and raised concerns about the quality and depth of research and analysis on which those officials can draw.

179.We note the emphasis that Russian politicians and officials place on one-to-one relationships. For example, United States Secretary of State John Kerry committed himself to building a personal relationship with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, which provided a basis for diplomacy in relation to Syria. It is questionable whether the Minister of State for Europe and the Americas could commit sufficient time to building such a relationship given the breadth of that portfolio.

180.The portfolio of the Minister of State for Europe and the Americas at the FCO is too broad to be covered effectively by any single individual. Our impression is that active policy responsibility remains principally the preserve of the Foreign Secretary and it would have been fairer for him to give evidence to the Committee on behalf of the Government. Bearing in mind the ongoing tensions in the UK-Russia relationship and its long-term importance to our security, the policy area would merit the appointment of a junior FCO Minister with more specific responsibility for Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), with sufficient resources to carry out the role.

A long-term people-to-people strategy

181.President Putin is likely to see seek another term in office in 2018, leaving him in power until 2024.240 Mikhail Khodorkovsky of Open Russia observed that while President Putin remains in the Kremlin, UK-Russia relations are unlikely to improve.241 For this reason, Dr Valentina Feklyunina of Newcastle University told the Committee that the UK should be “widening the engagement between the societies, and not focusing just on Putin when we think about Russian foreign policy”.242 She said:

The extent of his domestic support and domestic popularity, and the support for his actions in the international arena, indicate that we have to engage with the society more broadly in a much more consistent manner, and with a long-term perspective. It is something that cannot be fixed within the next three years; it has to be dealt with in a very long-term perspective. And that is people-to-people relations; it is not necessarily something pursued from Government to Government. That is something that was to an extent successful even at the time of the Cold War, and we can argue that it is one of the factors that we can see is working. It is working at some points of the relationship better than at others, but I think it is something where the UK should develop its expertise and invest more resources.243

182.Education is a key way in which the UK can develop long-term links with the Russian people, and 2017 is the ‘UK-Russia Year of Science and Education’ which involves a programme of events and co-operation run by the FCO with the Russian Government to inspire young people and strengthen our scientific relationship. Ian Bond of the Centre for European Reform recommended that

The UK should use another element of its soft power, education, to make a long-term investment in Russia’s development. Of 28 European universities taking part in the EU’s ‘Erasmus Mundus’ programme of scholarships and other educational exchanges with Russia, only one, Glasgow, is British. Russians received around 14,000 visas to study in the UK in 2014; the UK should ensure that it is not just educating the children of the current elite, but that it is offering scholarships to the most promising students it can find in Russia. Apart from the academic benefits of student and professional exchanges, increased educational links are a long-term investment in improving the UK’s and the West’s relations with Russia.244

183.The British Council outlined the long term potential for growth in English language teaching and the broader education sector in Russia:

There are estimated to be 15 million learners of English in Russia, and the Russian English language teaching market is estimated to be worth £500 million. In 2013 Russia was one of the top 10 countries in the ELT world, sending 35,000 students per annum to study English abroad. There are 3,600 Russian students a year in UK universities, which is estimated to be worth £90 million a year to the UK economy.245

184.When we visited St Petersburg in May 2016, we met an impressive group of students and administrators at the University of Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics. However, the students and administrators told us that it was difficult for them to obtain visas for study in the UK and made clear the relative lack of major partnering and exchange relationships with UK universities. In their view, the opportunities available for Russian students to study at or engage in collaborative projects with UK institutions compared unfavourably with counterparts in Germany, the USA and Australia. This was discouraging. Given the international reputation of its universities, the UK should be a leader rather than a laggard in this field.

185.It is more difficult for the Government to foster economic and business links with Russia in the light of the sanctions regime and Russia’s current economic difficulties. However, UK Trade and Investment (UKTI246) officials in Moscow told us that there remains demand for UK economic and business expertise across a wide range of sectors including oil and gas, education, financial and legal services, pharmaceuticals, luxury goods, and food and drink. The officials said that companies in Russia would take a long-term approach to position themselves well for any future recovery.

186.The Russian Government has said that it aims to double the share of SMEs in the Russian economy by 2030.247 Co-operation in this area would provide a way for the UK to build direct, long-term links with Russian businesses and entrepreneurs in sectors that are not affected by the sanctions regime. It is therefore encouraging that the British Embassy in Moscow has included “growing the Small Medium Enterprise (SME) base and the number of entrepreneurs in Russia” as a priority area for funding bilateral projects in 2017–18.248

187.The FCO must look beyond President Putin and develop a long-term strategy to engage with the Russian people and to articulate a credible, positive vision of the relationship that the UK would like to develop with Russia. In particular, the FCO should resource more fellowships and exchanges between British and Russian academic institutions, as well as organisations for young professionals, to promote the development of shared values and mutual understanding between British and Russian people. The UK should also build links with Russian SMEs and entrepreneurs with an eye to promoting closer economic co-operation with Russia when the time is right. A people-to-people strategy building bridges with the next generation of Russian political and economic leaders could underpin improved UK-Russia relations in the future.

223 Q64 [Dr Andrew Monaghan]

224 Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force, “Saving the spoon-billed sandpiper”, accessed 22 February 2017

225 British Council (RUS0014) 6.1

226 British Council (RUS0014) Summary

227 British Council, Corporate Plan 2016–20, p 24

231 European Union Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2014–15, The EU and Russia: before and beyond the crisis in Ukraine, HL Paper 115, paras 67–68; Defence Committee, First Report of Session 2016–17, Russia: Implications for UK defence and security, HC 107, paras 113–114

232 Q23

233 Q28 [Dr Derek Averre]

234 Q28 [Dr Derek Averre]

235 Q47

236 Q100 [Dr Valentina Feklyunina]

237 Sir Roderic Lyne (RUS0039) para 23

238 Ian Bond, Centre for European Reform (RUS0015) para 17

239 Foreign and Commonwealth Office, “The Rt Hon Sir Alan Duncan MP”, accessed 10 January 2016

240 Sir Roderic Lyne (RUS0039) para 21

241 Q129

242 Q100 [Dr Valentina Feklyunina]

243 Q100 [Dr Valentina Feklyunina]

244 Ian Bond, Centre for European Reform (RUS0015) para 33

245 British Council (RUS0014) para 6.4

246 UK Trade and Investment was replaced by the Department for International Trade in July 2016.

247 Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation, News: The Government decided to double the SMEs share in Russia by 2030, 31 July 2015

28 February 2017