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Exclusive: In Private, Medvedev-Cameron Summit Tried To End Litvinenko Impasse

The leaders of Russia and the UK met at the Kremlin for the first time since 2006. But despite the warm public words, behind closed doors the two sides were in tough talks over how the investigation of the death in London of former KGB spy Alexander Litvi

Litvinenko's grave in Highgate cemetery in London (Gianni)
Litvinenko's grave in Highgate cemetery in London (Gianni)
Vladimir Solovyov and Elena Chernenko

MOSCOW - Dmitry Medvedev and David Cameron tried to look like old friends.

They smiled at each other and called one another by the first name.

"I am happy to welcome you to the Kremlin. This visit has been a long time coming," Medvedev said.

"Thank you very much, Dmitry," replied Cameron.

From then on, the smiles never left their faces and they gave a news conference for half an hour, instead of the scheduled 20 minutes, seemingly reluctant to drag themselves away from each other.

Medvedev said: "Even if our approaches differ, there is no reason for drama. The main thing is that this does not have a negative impact on the general trend of our relations."

"Of course it's no secret there are issues on which our opinions differ," Cameron responded. "But we must continue open dialogue."

But reporters wanted to talk about what has poisoned, both literally and figuratively, political relations between Moscow and London: the unfinished business of Alexander Litvinenko.

The former KGB agent, who was subsequently a critic of the Kremlin, died in London in 2006 after being poisoned by radioactive polonium. The murder prompted a chill in ties, as Moscow refused to extradite the prime suspect, Andrei Lugovoy.

"Do you want Britain to stop talking about Litvinenko?" A British journalist put to Medvedev and Cameron.

Cameron calmly answered: "Despite the difficulties and disagreements between us, we are not changing our opinion. That does not mean that we should not develop our mutual cooperation in the areas of business and trade."

But the British media did not give up, with a BBC correspondent indignantly asking Cameron: "How can you come here to boost British business when the killer of Litvinenko has not been extradited?"

From the subsequent questions to Cameron and Medvedev, it's clear Litvinenko's death will continue to mar Russian-British relations.

Cameron said: "The issue has not been parked, but this does not mean we freeze the entire relationship."

Searching for a way out

Medvedev's answer showed no compromise. "If I am not mistaken, article 61 of the Russian constitution states ‘A Russian citizen cannot be extradited to a foreign state for a court case or an investigation." This needs to be respected. To whoever asks the question, there is one answer. It is impossible. Remember that."

However, Kommersant has learned that Moscow and London had used the encounter to discuss in private the possibility of specific ways to overcome the impasse.

"As long as we are unable to give Lugovoy up, a solution must be found via a joint investigation," a well-placed Russian source to Kommersant. "We proposed to the British to do this, and if it was ascertained that Lugovoy was really to blame, then they must arrest him in Russia. However, they don't want to do that."

Meanwhile, a source close to this week's talks told Kommersant that resuming contact between the countries' intelligence services, frozen since the Litvinenko affair, could be a possibility for improving relations.

"The British made it clear that owing to the level of public opinion surrounding the Litvinenko case, to renew relations with the FSB (Russian secret service) would be difficult. For that reason, what are being looked at are different ways of cooperation through international organizations, and joint operations under their auspices," the second source said. "So that means the FSB and British intelligence will not work together directly, but within the framework of an international group over issues such as Afghanistan."

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Geopolitics

Smaller Allies Matter: Afghanistan Offers Hard Lessons For Ukraine's Future

Despite controversies at home, Nordic countries were heavily involved in the NATO-led war in Afghanistan. As the Ukraine war grinds on, lessons from that conflict are more relevant than ever.

Photo of Finnish Defence Forces in Afghanistan

Finnish Defence Forces in Afghanistan

Johannes Jauhiainen

-Analysis-

HELSINKI — In May 2021, the Taliban took back power in Afghanistan after 20 years of international presence, astronomical sums of development aid and casualties on all warring sides.

As Kabul fell, a chaotic evacuation prompted comparisons to the fall of Saigon — and most of the attention was on the U.S., which had led the original war to unseat the Taliban after 9/11 and remained by far the largest foreign force on the ground. Yet, the fall of Kabul was also a tumultuous and troubling experience for a number of other smaller foreign countries who had been presented for years in Afghanistan.

In an interview at the time, Antti Kaikkonen, the Finnish Minister of Defense, tried to explain what went wrong during the evacuation.

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“Originally we anticipated that the smaller countries would withdraw before the Americans. Then it became clear that getting people to the airport had become more difficult," Kaikkonen said. "So we decided last night to bring home our last soldiers who were helping with the evacuation.”

During the 20-year-long Afghan war, the foreign troop presence included many countries:Finland committed around 2,500 soldiers,Sweden 8,000,Denmark 12,000 and Norway 9,000. And in the nearly two years since the end of the war, Finland,Belgium and theNetherlands have commissioned investigations into their engagements in Afghanistan.

As the number of fragile or failed states around the world increases, it’s important to understand how to best organize international development aid and the security of such countries. Twenty years of international engagement in Afghanistan offers valuable lessons.

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