Ex-head of MI6: 'We shouldn't kid ourselves that Russia is on a path to democracy'

Remarks come just hours after an outspoken critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin was shot dead on streets of Moscow

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The Independent Online

The former head of MI6 has said Russia presents a “state to state threat” and warned that only increased dialogue could better relations between the UK and the Kremlin.

Sir John Sawers, who recently retired after five years as chief of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, told Radio 4’s Today programme that he was disappointed how Russia and Europe’s path had failed to converge at the end of the Cold War.

“We shouldn’t kid ourselves that Russia is on a path to democracy because it isn’t,” he said.

Sir John’s remarks come just hours after one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critics was shot dead on a street in Moscow.

Boris Nemtsov, briefly the country’s deputy PM under Boris Yeltsin, heavily criticised the Russian leader, blaming him – among other things – for the ruin of the country’s economy. His outspoken actions had made him a hate figure among pro-Putin organisations.

Sir John continued: "One of the aspects of the modern world is that we live in a much more dangerous world these days,” adding that Russia had always been an “issue of concern” for security services.

The former security chief also addressed the continuation of the Ukrainian conflict, which has seen over 5,000 people killed, and brought renewed international attention to Russian foreign policy.

The civil uprising, which has pitted pro-Russian separatists (back by the Kremlin) against Ukrainian nationalists, was a “symptom” of the wider issues surrounding relations with Russian.

"The real problem is how we live with a Russia which feels very exposed,” Sir John continued. “Putin's actions are ones of a leader who believes his own security is at stake.”

Sir John, who was notable during his time as MI6’s chief for elevating the public profile of the organisation, said only dialogue would help bring the west and Russia back into the fold.

"We need to be able to address this through increased dialogue," he said.