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The Guardian: West ‘fearful’ of Russia, says exasperated Blair

EXTRACT: At the meeting with Mr Putin, Mr Blair is understood to have raised the case of BP and Shell’s multi-billion pound investments. Both claim the Russians have torn up contracts that would have given them access to key oil fields.


· Talks with Putin were frank but fruitless
· ‘Real issues’ will not be resolved easily or soon

Patrick Wintour, political editor
Saturday June 9, 2007

Tony Blair admitted differences with Russia would remain unresolved for a long time after one hour of very frank but wholly fruitless talks with President Vladimir Putin at the close of the G8 summit in the Baltics yesterday.

An exasperated Mr Blair admitted: “There are real issues here that are not going to be resolved any time soon”. He warned the west was “worried and fearful” at the political direction of Russia.

The talks, ranged over western missile defence systems, the use of Russian energy as a diplomatic weapon, threats to Ukraine, and the refusal to accept British calls for the extradition of a former KGB spy for the murder Alexander Litvinenko.

The discussions came at the end of Mr Blair’s 11th and last G8 summit with many of the world’s leaders expressing their regret at his departure. Mr Blair refused to become nostalgic insisting he has been too busy to reflect on his departure.

At the meeting with Mr Putin, Mr Blair is understood to have raised the case of BP and Shell’s multi-billion pound investments. Both claim the Russians have torn up contracts that would have given them access to key oil fields.

Six years ago Mr Blair and Mr Putin were on course to form one of the great bilateral alliances, but the relationship has ended in icy contempt. They did not even shake hands at the start of their meeting.

The discussions had been billed by the prime minister’s spokesman as a conversation, rather than a showdown. But Mr Blair described the talks as very frank. “President Putin set out his belief that Russia is not being treated properly by the west and its allies. I set out our view that people are becoming worried and fearful about what is happening in Russia. It was a perfectly frank discussion, but what will come of it is another matter.”

Although Britain has been warning that investment in Russia will start to decline unless President Putin recommits himself to democracy, the Russians point to growing investment and profits for the west.

The prime minister’s spokesman countered: “The conversation was an honest assessment of the damage being done to UK-Russian relations. It is not one issue, but it just all adds up.”

Britain like Nato is sceptical of a Russian offer to stage a missile defence system in the former Soviet Republic of oil rich Azerbaijan. Nato officials said the country was too close to Iran. Mr Putin countered that the missile interceptors could be placed in Turkey, Iraq or at sea. The US says Iran is the main target of its plan to install 10 anti-missile interceptors in Poland and a radar base in the Czech Republic.

The discussions were held against a backdrop of a row between Russia and the rest of the G8 over Kosovo, the province that Mr Blair played a key role in helping to liberate from Serbia in his first term in office. Russia has repeatedly threatened to use its veto at the UN security council to block plans to grant full independence for Kosovo from Serbia, one of Russia’s spheres of influence.

The French president Nicolas Sarkozy proposed delaying independence for six months to give Serbia and Kosovo further time to resolve their differences, but only on the understanding from Russians that Kosovan independence would come.

Mr Sarkozy said: “We cannot have a delay to let Belgrade and Pristina hold talks unless all the actors, notably the Russians, consider that the independence of Kosovo is an inevitable outcome.”

The German chancellor Angela Merkel said she did not support delaying a decision on Kosovo whose Albanian population have pushing for a UN vote on independence. “There’s no point in waiting for the sake of it,” she said.

The Kosovan prime minister Agim Ceku said: “I want to say this to the international community: we have trusted you to bring clarity. We have committed to the UN path and we have been very patient. I urge you, do not betray this trust.”

The final hours of the summit also saw a renewed push on a need for a conclusion to the global trade round which has been stalled for the past year. Mr Blair said: “We are very close. We are talking about a few percentage points and a few billion dollars. It hangs in the balance and the next couple of weeks will be vital.”,,2099133,00.html

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