May 29, 2019
British Prime Minister Theresa May and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands. Photo / AP
By Palko Karasz | The New York Times
LONDON – The gesture was meant to signal a thaw in Britain-Russia relations.
But the handshake that Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain offered President Vladimir Putin of Russia at the Group of 20 summit Friday in Osaka, Japan, was ice-cold, and came with a frosty stare.
Relations between the two countries have frayed over Britain’s accusation that Russia was behind the poisoning last year of Sergei V. Skripal, a retired Russian double agent, and of his daughter in Salisbury, England. Yet on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting in Japan this week, both leaders announced their intention to meet and move toward making amends.
“I think Russia and U.K. are both interested in fully restoring our relations, at least I hope a few preliminary steps will be made,” Putin told the Financial Times on Friday.
In Osaka, however, May again took Putin to task about the poisoning in Salisbury. She told the Russian leader that relations between the two countries would not normalize “until Russia stops the irresponsible and destabilizing activity that threatens the U.K. and its allies — including hostile interventions in other countries, disinformation and cyberattacks,” according to a statement from the prime minister’s office.
May called the use of a deadly nerve agent on the streets of Salisbury a “truly despicable act” and repeated Britain’s assertion that the country has irrefutable evidence that Russia was behind the attack.
In the Financial Times interview, Putin sought to play down the Skripal poisoning. “Listen, all this fuss about spies and counterspies, it is not worth serious interstate relations,” he said.
“This spy story, as we say, it is not worth 5 kopecks. Or even 5 pounds, for that matter,” he added, saying that the two countries’ overall relationship, which affects millions of people, was far more important.
Putin also made clear that he had would not tolerate spies who betrayed their country. “Treason is the gravest crime possible, and traitors must be punished,” he said. “I am not saying that the Salisbury incident is the way to do it — but traitors must be punished.”
Published Date: June 28, 2019