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#3 - JRL 7242
The Guardian (UK)
June 27, 2003
Red carpet for Putin
Too much pomp, too little straight talk

There was a single coy reference to the appalling abuses in Chechnya at yesterday's press conference with President Vladimir Putin. In talking about the internal situation in Russia, said Tony Blair, the two leaders had discussed "all those things you would expect" them to. Critics of the recent phoney referendum, and of the extra-judicial executions, torture and rapes committed by the Russian forces would "expect" Mr Blair to have been a little more explicit than that. But human rights now comes a long way second to the new mantra: as Mr Blair put it last week, it is "important that we support Russia in her action against terrorism". He no longer talks, as he did before Mr Putin visited three years ago, about the need for Russia's response to be "proportionate and consistent with international obligations".

Of course a good relationship between London and Moscow is as necessary today as it was in the mid-1950s, when Britain first sought to promote detente between the then two superpowers through summit diplomacy. The terms of the relationship may have changed - Britain is even more closely aligned to the US, while Russia is no longer a superpower - but there are still very significant shared interests and responsibilities, as fellow European, nuclear and "permanent five" powers. Mr Putin has also made Russia rather more stable and slightly less corrupt, even if his methods are often neo-tsarist.

Yet plain speaking is not incompatible with good relations. Mr Putin yesterday spoke more candidly than Mr Blair about another issue which divides them - the missing weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. If the weapons do exist and they are still concealed, he said, the occupying powers "should do everything possible" to find them before other "destructive elements" get hold of them. He sounded no less sceptical than he did two months ago in Moscow. More hopefully, there was a hint from Mr Blair that - perhaps at Russia's urging - Britain favours a more substantial role for the UN in Iraq.

Mr Putin's visit progressed during the week seamlessly from pomp to pipelines. The huge energy deal signed yesterday will be the most lasting result of the visit, bailing out Britain from impending shortage and worth billions to Russia. But was a royal reception really an appropriate way to reward Mr Putin for tolerating the mass graves and "disappearances" of Chechnya?

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