PRIME MINISTER’S INTERNET BROADCAST, 13 APRIL 2000 – RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA
I’m sometimes asked why so much of a Prime Minister’s time is spent on foreign affairs when there are so many pressing problems here at home.
And I’ve got some sympathy with this point of view, not least because I know more than anyone what needs to be done here.
But I also know that in a world which is increasingly interdependent, building good relationships between countries has never been more important. For Britain’s national interests.
Next week I will meet Vladimir Putin, the Acting President of the Russian Federation here in London.
When I was growing up, like many of you, the Cold War was at its height. Our relations with Russia and the old Soviet Union were characterised by hostility and mutual suspicion. Since then, we have witnessed a transformation which few people would have believed possible.
President Putin arrives here as the democratically-elected leader of a country in the midst of a massive transformation.
He was the overwhelming choice last month of the people of Russia in free and fair elections.
And while much has changed, Russia remains a great and powerful country – and an increasingly important partner for us in business.
It’s a country with which we share a continent and many common concerns and interests.
Russia is the European Union’s largest trading partner.
Many British firms are already playing their part in rebuilding and modernising its economy and many more firms want to follow their example.
Russia is also a country, freed of the shackles of communism and dictatorship, which has the potential to make a huge contribution for good in the world. Its soldiers serve alongside ours in Bosnia and Kosovo, and we work closely with Russia in the United Nations Security Council where we are both Permanent Members.
All of this explains why the decision to continue building a strong relationship with the new democratic Russia must be the right one.
And it is a relationship that Russia is keen to foster as well. Britain is here seen as having something of a pivotal role, because of our place in Europe, the close relationship with our European partners but also the fact that we’ve got a close partnership with the United States of America.
However I understand why there is some controversy about President Putin’s visit, just as there was over my decision to accept his invitation to meet him in St. Petersburg last month.
Off course there is real concern over what is happening in Chechnya.
Last month when I met President Putin, we talked this over in detail together. I can understand Russia’s need to respond to the threat of force from extremists and terrorists. But I am also clear that the measures taken should be proportionate and consistent with its international obligations. Russia should allow full access to international organisations which have a role to play in Chechnya and I hope that Russia will act on the clear lesson from similar such conflicts around the world: that there are no purely military solutions. Political dialogue is essential.
So of course I will take the opportunity of the visit to London to repeat our concerns, clearly and frankly to President Putin.
But I believe that the best way to ensure that Russia responds to these international anxieties is through engagement not isolation.
And this chance to talk directly and frankly about matters of difference as well as issues of shared concern demonstrates why meetings of this kind are so important.
It’s a fact that today problems and solutions rarely stop at national borders. Events in one country quickly spill over to their neighbours.
We live in a global economy. Economic decisions made in one country have an impact on the other side of the world as we saw with the Asian economic crisis a couple of years ago. Politics too, however, is becoming increasingly globalised.
So it is more vital than ever that we maintain friendships between countries and leaders, build new ones and share experiences and views for the benefits of our citizens.
It is in the end only by building alliances and winning arguments that Britain, for example, was able to help shape a new economic agenda agreed at last month’s European summit which focussed the whole direction of European economic policy far more strongly, rightly so, on jobs and future prosperity and economic reform.
It’s only through our ties with the United States and European partners that we were able to act successfully together to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and allow one million people who otherwise would be refugees in Europe, allow them to return home.
We have already seen greater co-operation between Russia and this country than anyone could have forecast just fifteen years ago. But we have to build on this, consign the Cold War relationship to the past and grasp the opportunity for real partnership in the future. A partnership from which not just both our countries, but also Europe as a whole, can benefit. And we can see this already despite our differences.
We have worked together, in bringing stability to the Balkans. There is increasingly close co-operation, for instance, between our security forces in tackling international organised crime and drugs.
This co-operation has to be in the best interests of our two countries and our citizens. And like all such relationships, it can only be enhanced by direct and personal contact.
For some Britain is an island, and as a result of being an Island, and we should almost try to isolate ourselves as much as possible from the world around us. But this inward-looking view is not the true lesson of British history.
My belief, passionate belief, is that our historic role has been of a Nation outward-looking and engaged.
For me Britain thrives when we make allies, argue our corner; take our case out to the world. That’s why we will be having this meeting with President Putin in London next week and why I will continue working at home and abroad to do all I can to protect our security, promote British interests, British jobs and British prosperity.