Relations between Britain and Russia seemed to be about as bad as they could be, even before the Russians threatened to cancel a major art exhibition due to open at the Royal Academy next month. The Russians said they wanted a cast-iron guarantee that none of the masterpieces coming to London risked being impounded by legal action. The British interpreted the threat as a continuation of all the existing disputes by other means.
It now seems that the threat has been lifted. The Culture Secretary, James Purnell, has undertaken to push through the legislation the Russians asked for. The Russians have accepted his good faith. The show promises to be a feast for art-lovers. If the go-ahead also signals a mutual recognition that relations between our two countries should not be allowed to get worse, that is to be welcomed. This is one area where a dose of old-fashioned seasonal spirit would not come at all amiss.