A recent report by a British think tank claiming that the UK military lacks operability to counter Russia in the event of a conflict is aimed — just like many other similar publications — at bloating the country's defence spending under the pretext of the so-called Russian threat, Russia's Ambassador to the United Kingdom Andrei Kelin said in an interview issued in the run-up to the NATO Leaders Meeting in London.
"We know that [the NATO] summit is going to happen here [in London on 4 December]. These types of statements and articles are now being practiced, as I’ve noticed, in many countries ... My feeling is that the sole purpose of these kinds of statements and reports is to seek more money for defence budgets. It is clear that defence people are exploiting the idea of a Russian threat for their own benefit, to extract more money from the budget of the government for defence", Kelin said, when asked to comment on the report.
UK military agencies and officials, most notably former Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, have repeatedly expressed concerns over Russia's alleged attempts to increase its military presence in Europe, especially in the Arctic. Moscow has consistently dismissed the allegations.
Brexit Could Bring Russian Businesses More Opportunities in UK
Russian businesses may have more opportunities to work in the United Kingdom once it finally leaves the European Union and many EU regulative barriers lose effect, according to Kelin.
"If Brexit happens, we will see other opportunities because certain barriers that have been established by the European Union, will fall. For example, in trade we have nearly twenty of these kinds of barriers and limitations ... So these barriers will not exist anymore and our business will have more opportunities to do things in this country", the ambassador said.
Russian companies and businessmen are very cautious about the unpredictability of Brexit and its implications, both for the UK and for global business, he noted.
"As to how we see it, we do not take a position in this matter. It is an internal matter from our political point of view. There are advantages for us in the UK staying in the European Union because it is more predictable and we have a certain basis in dealing with Britain through the European Union regulations and agreements that we have already with the European Union", Kelin said.
On 26 November, Kelin told Russian journalists that a new Moscow-London trade deal was on the agenda.
Earlier in November, Sergei Belyaev, the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Second European Department, said that Russia-UK and Russia-EU expert consultations were held from 25-26 September at the World Trade Organisation on distributing London's and Brussels' tariff quotas after Brexit.
UK Officials Try to Downplay Improvement of Russian Business Climate
UK businesses are eager to learn about facilitated business conditions in Russia given its better performance in the Doing Business rankings, but UK officials are trying to downplay these improvements, the envoy said.
"I have yet also heard a serious desire on the part of British businesses to learn what is happening in Russia to facilitate business. But on the other hand, I have of course also heard officials of the UK cooling it down, trying to decrease expectations and trying to intervene with the political background and all of that side", Kelin said.
The Russian government is doing a lot in cutting off the old regulations which are impeding business development, the ambassador stressed.
"Anyway, I do believe that business will find ways how to circumvent all these things, and if people would like to do that, they will do that. Some very interesting ideas have been launched today. For instance, that British business should use existing opportunities like creating a free-trade zone with Russia not limited by the European Union", he added.
Russia was ranked 28th in the Doing Business 2020 index compiled by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation, rising from last year's 31st position due to innovations in electricity supply, taxation, and protection of minority investors' rights. Last year, Russia moved to the 31st position from 35th place, while eight years ago, it was ranked 120th.
In early October, Nicholas Cobb, the chair of the Westminster Russia Forum, said that UK-Russian business ties were positively developing even despite the uncertainty over the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.
The relations between Russia and the United Kingdom soured last year over the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter on UK soil. London has accused Moscow of carrying out the attack, while Russian officials have refuted the allegations and stressed that Moscow has been denied access to the investigation and the Skripals themselves.