Just hours before the kick-off of this week’s G20 meeting in Osaka, Japan, Vladimir Putin previewed his hopes for a meeting with UK Prime Minister Theresa May, in a wide-ranging interview with the Financial Times on Thursday.
At the summit in Osaka, one of the Russian leader’s most-anticipated events will be a bilateral meeting with the outgoing May, with whom Putin hopes to make “a few preliminary steps” toward a better UK-Russian relationship, he said.
Relations between the UK and Russia have been frosty since a high-profile 2018 poisoning incident on UK soil: Former Russian spy Skripal, 66, was found slumped on a bench in Salisbury on March 4, 2018, along with his daughter, Yulia, after being exposed to novichok, a military-grade nerve agent. The UK government blamed the poisoning on Russian intelligence officers, which Russia denied.
“This spy story, as we say, it is not worth five kopecks. Or even five pounds, for that matter,” Putin told the Financial Times’ Lionel Barber, comparing it to the scale of relations between nations.
Because the G20 is expected to be one of May’s last outings as leader on a global stage, Putin reasoned that this might improve the odds of progress in their talks at the G20, because “she is leaving and is free to do what she thinks is right, important and necessary and not to bother about some domestic political consequences.”
“I think that both Russia and the UK are interested in fully restoring our relations,” he also said.
But a Downing Street spokesperson told CNN Wednesday that May and Putin’s G20 meeting Friday “does not represent a normalization of relations”.
“The Prime Minister’s position on Salisbury and Russia’s wider pattern of malign behavior is well-known. As she has said, we remain open to a different relationship but that can only happen if Russia desists from activity that undermines international treaties and our collective security,” the spokesperson added.
“This meeting is an important opportunity to deliver this message leader-to-leader to ensure the UK’s position is fully understood.”