British Prime Minister David Cameron and Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold talks in London on Thursday, and then take in a judo match at the Olympics.
The British premier is expected to press the Russian leader on his support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, amid its brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protestors and rebels. However, the Guardian newspaper reported their talks could be limited to trade issues if Putin indicates he is not interested in discussing the Syrian crisis.
The meeting comes two weeks after Russia and China vetoed the latest U.N. resolution to stop the bloodshed. Syrian government forces are now battling to regain full control of Syria's biggest city, Aleppo.
The Russian president has not visited Britain for over nine years, as the countries have endured rocky relations.
According to Putin’s aides, he “is coming to watch the sport rather than indulge in high level diplomacy,” the Huffington Post reports. But Cameron will press for serious diplomatic discussions against the sporting backdrop.
“We will be at the judo, so it may be a bit off-putting, but nonetheless, I know my major priority is to get those trade deals to get that investment and not to concentrate on what's happening on the mat,” Cameron said last week, addressing an audience of business leaders.
Diplomatic efforts between Russia and Britain are complicated by tensions over espionage, human rights, trade deals and the presence of a community of outspoken Russian political exiles in Britain.
Britain has proposed an international conference on the future of Syria, but its efforts have been hamstrung by Russian insistence on the attendance of the Iranians, and by divisions within the Syrian opposition.
Relations between Britain and Russia soured over the 2006 poisoning death of dissident ex-Russian security agent Alexander Litvinenko in London. Litvinenko made a deathbed statement accusing Putin of authorizing his killing.
Russia has refused repeated British requests for the extradition of the chief suspect in the case, ex-KGB agent Andrei Lugovoi, who denies any involvement. Intelligence cooperation between Britain and Russia remains suspended as a result of Litvinenko’s killing.
Leaders of the two countries didn't meet for five years as a result, but in a visit to Moscow last September Cameron acknowledged that the two nations must set aside their disputes to nurture new trading ties.
“This issue hasn't been parked, the fact is that the two governments don't agree,” Cameron told reporters.
During that visit, Putin -- then Russia's prime minister -- cast doubt on Britain’s aims of strengthening trade links. He said Britain's investments “in the real sector of the economy are rather modest.”
The visit by Putin, a black belt in judo and honorary president of the International Judo Federation, will be his first to Britain since he was reinstalled as Russia’s chief in May and follows talks with Cameron on the sidelines of May’s G-20 meeting in Mexico.