By Ria Novosti
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov issued a sharp warning to the West Tuesday over calls for the spread of democracy in the Middle East in the wake of the popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.
Following talks in London with Foreign Secretary William Hague, Lavrov said that calls for revolution in the region were “counter-productive”.
He also hit out at the United States and Europe for imposing further sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme without wider international backing.
He warned that Russia would not support further measures which created “social problems” for the Iranian population.
Lavrov’s visit had been billed as an attempt to rebuild relations between Britain and Russia, which have been problematic since the murder in London of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.
At their joint news conference, Mr Hague said they were working to achieve a “patient, steady improvement” in relations – including an agreement to modernise the hotline between No 10 and the Kremlin.
He acknowledged that “serious disagreements” remained between them.
Lavrov warned that attempts to encourage the spread of “democracy of a specific pattern” to other Middle East states such as Iran and Bahrain could backfire on the West.
He pointed to the Palestinian elections which resulted in victory in Gaza for the Islamist organisation, Hamas.
“We need to understand the consequences of such encouragement,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.
“We don’t think it is right to encourage specific schemes of action in terms of the Middle East states.
“We have had one revolution in Russia and we don’t believe that we need to call for others.” His comments appeared to be aimed at US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who said she “clearly and directly” supported anti-government protesters who took to the streets in Iran following the ousting of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, commentators said.
Lavrov also hit out at the US and Europe for imposing further sanctions on Iran without the agreement of the so-called E3+3 group of Britain, France and Germany, plus the US, Russia and China.
“It undermines our joint work in the E3+3 group. If we agree to stick to a collective agreed position, we should not deviate from that,” he said.
“Further sanctions would mean the creation of social problems for the population. We would not be able to support them.” In contrast, Hague said that the international community needed to step up the pressure on Tehran.
“I do think it will be important to intensify the peaceful and legitimate pressure on Iran to negotiate in good faith about its nuclear programme,” he said.
He accused the Iranian regime of “shameless hypocrisy”, having backed the protesters in Egypt, only to suppress the demonstrations on its own streets.
“We uphold the right of peaceful protest. We did so in Egypt and Tunisia and we do so elsewhere. We hope that right will be respected,” he said.
“We look to the authorities in all the countries concerned to respect that right, including in Iran.” Hague confirmed they had discussed possible security cooperation on counter-terrorism and organised crime, without reaching any agreement.
“We don’t have specific announcements to make because these issues do require further work by officials,” he said.
Britain broke off intelligence-sharing with the FSB – the Russian security service – in 2007 after Moscow refused to extradite another ex-KGB officer, Andrei Lugovoi, who is wanted by police for the murder of Litvinenko.
While Hague said both sides wanted to see an improvement in relations – Prime Minister David Cameron is due to make his first official visit to Moscow later this year – he acknowledged that it would take time.
“Our countries continue to see a steady, patient improvement in relations. It will take time, there will be no giant leaps. It is about measured, practical steps,” he said.