Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why Britain admitted spying on Russia

Britain will today admit in the first part of  the BBC documentary "Putin, Russia and the West" the allegations of British using a spying device hidden inside a fake rock. Years ago, when these allegations were initially made by Russia, then PM Tony Blair, tried to laugh off the incident, while the Foreign Office denied any improper conduct. At the time (2006), Mr. Blair said: ‘I’m afraid you’re going to get the old stock in trade of never commenting on security matters.  Except when we want to, obviously.’

Subsequent murder of former intelligence officer turned journalist Litvinenko led London and Moscow to expel each other's diplomats. Russia continues to refuse to extradite the accused murderer of Litvinenko, the former KGB bodyguard Andrei Lugovoy.

In 2006, when an FSB official initially told the Moscow TV program that one of the diplomats identified had been authorising payments to Russian non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including civil rights activists. The Kremlin then used the incident to justify a new law for cracking down on human rights and pro-democracy groups, which then president Vladimir Putin said were funded by Western secret services. The law seriously hampered NGOs that opposed Putin: it included clauses that gave the government power to shut them down and force greater monitoring of foreign funding. The new regulations followed pro-democracy revolutions in neighbouring Georgia and Ukraine, which Russia argued were orchestrated by the west via foreign-funded NGOs.

Putin is currently under pressure from democratic forces in Russia itself as a result of the faked elections in the fall of 2010. This 'spy stone' conveniently reinforces Russia's implication that the West is funding and directing the opposition. The result of the British admission is the delegitimization liberal forces opposing Putin. The benefit to Putin is obvious, but why are the British helping them and undermining the forces of democracy they recently fostered and sponsored?

In the BBC documentary Blair’s former chief of staff, Jonathan Powell says:‘The spy rock was embarrassing. They had us bang to rights. Clearly they had known about it for some time and had been saving it up for a political purpose.’Why are the British admitting this 'embarrassment?

"I would not be surprised if Putin and his team actually used it again to assert their old platitudes discrediting leading human rights activists," said Tanya Lokshina, of Human Rights Watch Russia. In addition to NGOs Putin is also beginning to lean on the free press again. In light of this, what explains the strange timing of the British mea culpa, which is so unfavorable for liberal forces in Russia?

The answer appears to be that financial interest have outweighed political considerations.

Britain is one of the largest foreign direct investors in Russian economy. British investments in Russia reached $40 billion dollars by the end of 2010.

In September of last year Russia and the UK have agreed to smooth over political differences in Russian-British relations. Prime Minister David Cameron visited Moscow officially for the first time.

“Russia is resource-rich and services-light, Britain is the opposite,” Cameron said in a speech at Moscow State University. “In fact, Britain is already one of the largest foreign direct investors in Russia. And Russian companies already account for about a quarter of all foreign initial public offerings on the London Stock Exchange.”

In October of last year foreign secretary William Hague met Russian leaders. The foreign office source said: "The Foreign Secretary is not go oing to say we give up on the Lugovoy case for the sake of business, that's not where we're at."

The Olympics this summer will offer another opportunity for rapprochement. There are some voices in UK calling for withholding the invitation, but they appear to be in the minority. The decision for political conciliation with Russia appears to have been made the the highest levels in the UK. It sacrifices their nascent relationship with liberal forces in Russia closer economic ties.

As a result, of UK throwing the liberal forces in Russia under the bus, it is likely to lose its influence on them just as these forces gather steam, and gives credence to the cynical opinion of of power holders that the Western talk about human rights, is not sincere, but merely a political ploy.

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