Leading article: Striking the right note in the Kremlin

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David Cameron faces a difficult balancing act in Moscow on the first visit to Russia by a British Prime Minister since 2006. After several years in which Moscow and London have pointedly ignored one another, it is time to "re-set relations with Russia", to borrow from a phrase used by President Barack Obama last year. Britain is an important foreign investor in Russia – its sixth largest – and we have an interest in tapping Russia's vast energy resources as well as a joint concern about terrorism.

It's time to talk. But when we do, it should be as equals, not as supplicants. If our bilateral relations have become strained, it is first because Russia has refused to hand overthe prime suspect behind the poisoning in London in 2006 of the former spy, Alexander Litvinenko, and second because Russia has behaved spitefully towards British interests in Russia ever since. The harassment of the British Council in Moscow and of companies such as BP are only two examples of this.

There is no point in trying to lecture the Russian leaders. Past experience shows that the prickly nationalists in the Kremlin do not respond well to moral homilies. We must keep in mind that the prickliest of them all, Vladimir Putin, now Russia's Prime Minister, may be back as President next year when Dmitry Medvedev's term expires.

Awareness of that timetable does not mean that outstanding areas of disagreements should be shoved under the carpet in the interests of having an easy visit, however. The Prime Minister should say that he wants the recent Anglo-Russian cold war to end. For its part, Russia should be told to halt its deliberate obstruction of British representatives in Russia and show itself more willing to solve the Litvinenko case. That would be an agreement worth having.

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