G20: PM says Russia must ‘go down different path’
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Theresa May is using her swansong on the world stage to give Russia another chance to come in from the cold.
She has succumbed to advances from Vladimir Putin who asked for a meeting at the G20 summit.
Mrs May says Russia must end its malign behaviour, its use of cyber attacks and disinformation and she repeated her condemnation of the Salisbury novichok poisonings.
The prime minister told Sky News she wants to give the Russian leader a clear message: “Russia can go down a different path if it desists from this sort of activity.”
“Let’s be clear about the poisoning that took place on the streets of Salisbury, on the streets of the UK. This was a despicable act, it was a reckless act.”
But she did not say she would be demanding that the Russian leader hands over the two military intelligence agents the UK believes carried out the attacks.
“I will be very clear that I expect these individuals to be brought to justice. Russia does not allow the extradition of its nationals.”
This G20 summit is dominated by two primary concerns: the fear of a US war with Iran and a US Chinese trade war.
Officials say the prime minister wants to use her last global summit to promote the rules-based world order and international cooperation. However, for important bilateral meetings she has chosen leaders who have arguably done much to undermine both.
As well as Mr Putin, she will sit down with Mohammed bin Salman the Saudi Crown Prince who is believed by western intelligence agencies to have ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.
She will also meet Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has locked up critics and journalists.
The UK is also pressing for more concerted action on climate change at the gathering. The nations represented here produce 80% of the world’s greenhouse gases.
Mrs May says she has been personally moved by the retreat of a glacier in Switzerland that she has observed on annual walking holidays.
But the US President Donald Trump has dismissed climate change as a “Chinese hoax” and pulled the US out of the Paris climate change agreement. This is not a G20 summit likely to produce planet saving breakthroughs.
Meanwhile, in an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Putin said liberalism has become “obsolete” and has “outlived its purpose”.
“This liberal idea presupposes that nothing needs to be done. That migrants can kill, plunder and rape with impunity because their rights as migrants have to be protected,” he said.
He added that the liberal idea has “come into conflict” with the interests of the majority of the population.
However Mr Putin appeared optimistic about repairing the relationship between Russia and Britain ahead of his meeting with Mrs May in Osaka for her farewell summit as prime minister.
Relations strained after the UK government blamed the Kremlin for the attempted assassination of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury last year.
Moscow has denied the claims.
In the interview, Mr Putin said: “Treason is the gravest crime possible and traitors must be punished. I am not saying that the Salisbury incident is the way to do it … but traitors must be punished.”
He added: “I think Russia and UK are both interested in fully restoring our relations, at least I hope a few preliminary steps will be made.”