Last Wednesday saw the completion of a three-day visit to Moscow by the British Minister for European Neighborhood and the Americas Wendy Morton. This was the first visit by a senior representative of the United Kingdom's Foreign Office to Russia since December 2017. Back then, our capital was visited by that country's current Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who used to head the British Foreign Office. The British media emphasize that Ms. Morton's visit to Moscow has also been the first one since the March 2018 poisoning of ex-GRU Colonel Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury and the summer 2020 poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny.
There were two official meetings on the agenda of Wendy Morton's stay in Moscow. On November 17, she held consultations with Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov, where they carefully discussed the current state of bilateral relations, among other things. As noted in the Russian Foreign Ministry's official message, "the Russian side called on British officials to drop unfriendly rhetoric in the interstate dialogue and stressed the necessity of responsible cooperation on the basis of mutual respect to each other’s interests in order to develop a positive agenda in the Russian-British relations."
The parties confirmed their mutual interest in developing cooperation under multilateral efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic, global climate change, and building up trade and economic ties. Among the current international issues discussed were those related to Ukraine, Nagorno-Karabakh, Iran's nuclear program, as well as other challenges which may require integrated efforts.
Remarkably, the British diplomat added in her turn that human rights issues were also discussed during the meeting with Titov. "I was clear where we disagree, on Ukraine and human rights. The UK will continue to hold Russia to its international commitments," she posted on Twitter. If Wendy Morton had not written this, she would not have been a true Englishwoman, who must necessarily reproach Moscow for what London does not like. Otherwise, why come to Russia at all?
On Wednesday, Ms. Morton met with President Vladimir Putin's top climate adviser Ruslan Edelgeriev. Throughout the conversation, they discussed preparations for the 26th conference of parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change due in Glasgow in November 2021. Edelgeriev drew the British side's attention to the wide potential for implementing climate projects in Russia and noted that Moscow consistently assumes that the climate change discussion should remain out of political contradictions and free from unilateral protectionist measures. The parties expressed their mutual readiness to proceed with cooperation along the climate track.
There is another peculiarity concerning the British Minister's visit to Moscow. On the eve of Ms. Morton's arrival in Russia, London was reported to be jealous of sounding out Kremlin's sentiment on Joe Biden's election as President of the United States. The newly elected American leader's inner circle fears that Moscow will come up with a negative response after Biden's inauguration on January 20 next year. It is entirely possible that London wants to help allay those concerns. There is no information available whether Ms. Morton managed to clarify the issue. And there couldn't have been any, it seems, because high-level Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, have repeatedly stated they will work with any President chosen by the American people. So, apparently, all the London diplomat's attempts to clarify the issue of Washington's interest have fallen flat.
It is especially noteworthy that during Wendy Morton's visit to Moscow, the parties have particularly found common ground as regards climate change and cooperation in combating coronavirus. Given the current "zero" level of Russian-British relations, this is quite a lot already. But what's next? Given the level of present-day anti-Russian sentiments on the British Isles and the British authorities' constant complaints against Russia, one can hardly imagine that Russian-British relations will improve in the foreseeable future. Moreover, London itself says this visit has nothing to do with normalizing relations, but is only intended to keep the dialogue between the countries going.