Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Russia Dr Laurie Bristow gave a speech at the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce’s RussiaTALK Investment Forum on Thursday 1 November
Welcome to Russia Talk.
We need to talk. And the place to start is by being honest about the challenges we all face. The last year has been one of the most difficult in living memory, at the political level. Between the UK and Russia, for sure. But also between Russia and a wide range of Russia’s international partners.
The chemical weapons attack which took place in the UK last March was a turning point. It crossed all possible moral and legal red lines. We are very confident in our judgement that it was carried out by agents of the Russian state. Twenty eight other countries acted with us to reduce Russia’s ability to harm us.
It will not be possible to have a normal political relationship with the government of a country whose agents attack us in this way. Our first duty is to protect the UK.
But we do not seek confrontation with Russia. What we want is a relationship based on mutual respect and which benefits the people of both countries. In business, education, and culture. And in addressing the 21st century opportunities and challenges that are too big for any country to deal with alone. Such as climate change, anti-microbial resistance, artificial intelligence and new technologies. That is clearly in the interests of the UK.
It will take a long time to build the kind of relationship we want with Russia, and it will be difficult. To some extent it will depend on changes in Russia over which the UK has little influence. But we have some important successes to build on.
First, the depth and breadth of the economic relationship. British and Russian firms work together across a broad spectrum, creating jobs and improving living standards in both countries.
UK-Russia bilateral trade in 2017 was worth nearly £12bn. It isn’t just trade: many UK companies invest in Russia for the long term, employing Russians and supporting the Russian economy. Rotork, a UK engineering company, recently opened a new office and manufacturing facility here in Moscow. My Embassy supports a large number of British companies operating in Russia, and Russian companies seeking to invest in the UK. In October we held events promoting education, fashion and marketing communications. We work closely with the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce to support trade, helping you identify opportunities and manage risks – including legal and reputational risks for example from sanctions compliance.
Second, we have over the last 25 years built strong and lasting education links. The successful economies of the 21st century will be the ones that can create knowledge and bring it to market. So we need to work now to create and strengthen links between educational and research institutions. I meet a lot of young Russians as they graduate from joint degree programmes between Russian and UK universities. They are the people who will be doing our jobs a few years from now. Supporting those links remains one of the most important long term investments we make. My Embassy will continue to do so despite the Russian government’s decision to close the British Council in Russia. Earlier this week we held a seminar for 100 Russian teachers to promote UK education to Russian students.
Third, the strength that comes from our cultural and historical links. We will build on these in 2019 with the UK-Russia Year of Music in 2019. Business will have an important part to play, given the importance of the creative industries to the UK economy.
And fourth, the strength that comes from individual contacts. Our visa numbers are rising, and the number of Russian tourists travelling to the UK is rising. Last summer, tens of thousands of British people visited Russia for the World Cup. That is surely something for both sides to build on.
As I said at this conference last year, business and commercial ties are important in their own right. But they are also a stabilising force in the relationships between Russian and its foreign partners. There is a lot to talk about.
Thank you very much.