Ambassador Andrei Kelin's interview to Sputnik News Agency
Question: One thing I wanted to run by you was that I met your predecessor last year at a press conference immediately after the incident in Salisbury. I think it goes without saying that it was a real time of real escalation in diplomatic tensions between London and Moscow. In the context of this forum, how would you say that affected the business relationship between the two countries, and has there been any improvement since then?
Answer: It is a good question. What I have seen in the opening statements and sessions and afterwards, was a certain contradiction. On the one hand, Russian representatives from different ministries, agencies of investment, were talking about the new opportunities which the Russian government is now providing for businessmen, including small and medium businesses. They mentioned, of course, that we have made efforts to go up in the index of doing business of the World Bank. The government is doing a lot in cutting the old regulations which are impeding the development of business. I have yet also heard a serious desire on the part of British businesses to learn what is happening in Russia to facilitate business.
But on the other hand, I have of course also heard officials of the UK cooling it down, trying to decrease expectations and trying to intervene with the political background and all of that side.
Anyway, I do believe that business will find ways how to circumvent all these things, and if people would like to do that, they will do that. Some very interesting ideas have been launched today. For instance, that British business should use existing opportunities like creating a free-trade zone with Russia not limited by the European Union. Also interesting I would say.
Question: I’ve heard from a contact, the chairman of the Westminster-Russian forum, who told me that Brexit is regarded by Russians as purely a British matter. Is that true of Russian businessmen, do they keep an eye on Britain? They must think what it could mean for them if they want to strike business deals here.
Answer: I’ve heard from a number of companies and businessmen in Russia that they are very cautious. They have ideas and intentions to go to Britain, but they will abstain from doing so for some time because the political situation is not clear. I mean, both in Britain and internationally. For the moment they would prefer to be cautious and to sit back in Moscow, in Russia. As to how we see it, we do not take a position in this matter. It is an internal matter from our political point of view. There are advantages for us in the UK staying in the European Union because it is more predictable and we have a certain basis in dealing with Britain through the European Union regulations and agreements that we have already with the European Union. This is one side. The other side is that if Brexit happens, we will see other opportunities because certain barriers that have been established by the European Union, will fall. For example, in trade we have nearly twenty of these kinds of barriers and limitations: in steel, in the chemical industry for instance, chrome. So these barriers will not exist anymore and our business will have more opportunities to do things in this country.
Question: There’s one last point that my editor in Moscow wanted me to run by you. There has been a report published today, and I’ll understand if you don’t want to comment, from the Royal United Services Institute that has found that the British Army has a critical shortage of artillery and ammunition and could not hold a defensive position in Eastern Europe. What do you think of that kind of research? Is that unhelpful?
Answer: In my diplomatic career I have dealt a lot with military defense matters. I used to work in Brussels for ten years at NATO headquarters, and frankly established a normal relationship between NATO and Russia. We know that [the NATO] summit is going to happen here. These types of statements and articles are now being practiced, as I’ve noticed, in many countries. In the United States, in Germany, in London this kind of things is printed regularly. My feeling is that the sole purpose of these kinds of statements and reports is to seek more money for defense budgets. It is clear that defense people are exploiting the idea of a Russian threat for their own benefit, to extract more money from the budget of the government for defense.