British-US link hurts ties with Russia, MPs say

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LONDON, Nov 25 (Reuters) Britain's closeness to the United States is at least partly to blame for the poor state of its relations with Russia, British lawmakers said today.

Relations between London and Moscow are at their worst since the Cold War, soured in particular by mutual espionage allegations, the murder of former Russian intelligence official Andrei Litvinenko in London last year, tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats and a revival of Russian long-range bomber patrols.

The British parliament's foreign affairs committee said Russia now saw Britain as too closely aligned with the United States to be an attractive partner, and was anyway ''sceptical of the UK's ability to wield any influence over the US''.

''We conclude that the UK's relationship with Russia has been impacted negatively by London's stance vis-a-vis Washington,'' the committee wrote in a report.

''We recommend that the government should seek to improve its relations with Russia without damaging its relations with the US'' The report noted that Tony Blair was the first Western head of government to meet Putin, and that Putin in 2003 became the first Russian leader to pay a state visit to Britain since 1874.

Blair was often criticised while in office for his closeness to US President George W Bush, whom he joined in war in Iraq.

His successor Gordon Brown is bringing troops home from Iraq but still says Washington is Britain's most important ally.

The committee also acknowledged that the Litvinenko affair was weighing on British-Russian relations, and urged the government to renegotiate extradition arrangements with Russia, but did not say how it thought this could be achieved.

British prosecutors have charged former KGB bodyguard Andrei Lugovoy with Litvinenko's murder but Russia has refused to extradite him, arguing that its constitution prevents this.

Reuters TB VP0443

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