Air traffic between London and Moscow has trebled in the last 10 years and demand on the route continues to grow.
It is the eighth largest retail market in the world and the fourth largest in Europe, having recently overtaken Brazil, Italy, Spain and Mexico. Russia is seen as having long term potential for UK exporters.
By area Russia is by far the largest country in the world. With 142 million people and eleven time zones it is the UK’s fastest-growing export market and the third largest after Europe and North America, according to UK Trade & Investment. In 2011 British exports to Russia increased by 39 per cent over 2010, representing trade worth £4.8 billion.
In the words of President Putin, “What’s that? It’s almost zero.” Putin was comparing it to Russia’s trade with Germany, currently running at over $70 billion a year. These figures benefit from Germany being the European terminus of Russia’s gas pipelines. They are also a result of Germany’s pragmatic and realistic approach to doing business with Russia stretching over the past 40 years
Part of the reason is the pall cast over UK-Russian relations for the last six years by the Litvinenko affair. The height of the debacle was when-foreign secretary David Milliband called for Russia to change its constitution so that a suspect could be extradited on the basis of a rather flimsy file compiled by the Crown Prosecution Service. Russia clamped down on the British Council and a Kremlin aligned youth group, Nashi, hounded British Ambassador Tony Brenton.
Emotions on both sides ran high and Russia’s knee-jerk reactions did not contribute to exposing the basic fallacies of the British case which was manipulated by the press from start to finish. The heart-wrenching photograph of a brave, bald Litvinenko on his death bed was created by the use of a razor not radiation hair loss. The death-bed accusation against Putin was written by a PR expert, not Litvinenko.
The Litvinenko “murder” has never been officially classified as murder. Six years on and an inquest has not been held. Six years on and Marina Litvinenko, the widow, has not been shown an official result of the post mortem.
Six years on and “The Russians killed Litvinenko” has become the accepted mantra in the corridors of power in Britain. It is high time that the Litvinenko affair was put to rest. The British Ministry of Justice should appoint a judge to preside over the inquest and Russia should put its resources behind exposing the fiction created by Boris Berezovsky, the self-exiled malcontent and one-time oligarch and his masterful PR consultants Bell-Pottinger. We should unite in ensuring that Marina Litvinenko and their son Tolik, now 18 years old, can at last know the truth.
Then British business can get on with the job of reaping the benefits of selling and investing with Russia. Nearly twenty years ago I was telling British advertisers “Russia is a country of 150 million consumers, ALL of whom would like to live like us.” Today many more of them CAN afford to live like us and more British brands should be on wider offer in Russia.