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U.K. Takes Softer Tack In Dealing With Russia

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U.K. Takes Softer Tack In Dealing With Russia

August 20, 2008; Page A13

LONDON — In dealing with Russia, the U.K., long one of the U.S.’s biggest allies, is moving away from the tougher talk of Washington and closer to the desire of Western Europe to not antagonize Russia, where Britain’s relations are already strained.

This means one fewer ally for Washington in its attempts to carve a more robust response to Russia’s actions in Georgia. Russian state media cited the U.K.’s move away from what it said was London’s typical support for the U.S. as one sign the North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting was “a failure for Washington.”

While Britain has gone further than European Union peers such as Germany and Italy in blaming Russia for the conflict in Georgia, it has stopped short of backing U.S. calls to kick Russia out of forums such as the Group of Eight industrialized nations. The U.K. — Europe’s most active military power and second largest economy after Germany — also has shown no willingness to help rebuild the Georgian military.

Instead, the U.K. supports bringing Russia closer into the international fold — echoing views of other EU peers — and showing Russia that it has more to gain by being a partner than an aggressor.

“I am not one that believes that isolating Russia is the right answer to its misdemeanors,” said U.K. Foreign Minister David Miliband, in a statement, before the NATO meeting Tuesday. “I think that the right response is hard-headed engagement.” Mr. Miliband planned to travel to Georgia Tuesday evening.

This appears to be a shift in 11 years of policy from the U.K.’s ruling Labour Party which has taken aggressive stands in international affairs, often flexing military muscle alongside the U.S. The U.K. has been the second biggest contributor of troops after the U.S. for conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. The 2003 decision to go to war in Iraq put the U.K. into conflict with European peers.

The U.K. has its own diplomatic problems with Russia. U.K. oil company BP PLC is fighting with its Russian joint-venture partner. Russia refused to extradite to Britain a suspect in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent who was poisoned in London in late 2006.

The U.K. position is another sign of the more EU-friendly approach of Mr. Miliband, who is seen as a potential successor to Prime Minister Gordon Brown. “Recent speeches from Miliband have laid out much stronger European credentials than some of his predecessors ever would have wanted to,” said Geoffrey Edwards, director of European studies at Cambridge University.

Mr. Miliband isn’t expected to break his close relationship with the U.S. Britain views the U.S. as key to its drive to reform international institutions such as the United Nations and the World Bank.

The U.K. said Tuesday it had no differences of opinion with the U.S. or others. At Tuesday’s NATO meeting, “you did see a significant degree of unity with all ministers supporting a package of practical and political support for Georgia,” said a Foreign Office official.

Write to Alistair MacDonald at

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