To Russia with no love lost
Six weeks ago I wrote in this blog that Russia is back - newly assertive because of the high prices it now gets for its oil and gas exports. Today, we have heard Russia threaten to retaliate for Britain's expulsion of four of Moscow's diplomats because Russia has not extradited one of its citizens suspected of murdering an opponent of President Putin, Alexander Litvinenko, in London.
On The World Tonight, we have been trying to answer the question - will the Gordon Brown premiership see a new direction in foreign policy? There has been a lot of speculation in the media that the new faces in the Foreign Office - including David Miliband and the former deputy secretary general of the UN, Mark Malloch Brown who fell out with Washington when he was at the world body – indicate that Mr Brown would seek to distance himself from the Bush administration and recalibrate the foreign policy of the Blair years.
So far the signs are that there will not be a dramatic change, which given the fact that the new prime minister was a central part of the Blair government and Mr Miliband and Douglas Alexander, the international development secretary, were also ministers under Mr Blair, this is not surprising.
On last Friday's programme (listen here) we asked where relations with Washington and Moscow are headed.
We spoke to Gene Sperling of the Council on Foreign Relations, the man who hosted Douglas Alexander's speech in Washington that led many journalists to argue Mr Brown was distancing himself from Mr Bush. From an American perspective, Mr Sperling, told us there was nothing in the speech that Mr Blair would not have said - which seemed to answer that one.
And given that Gordon Brown is known to be an admirer of the United States and its economic and intellectual success, it was always unlikely he would make a significant break with his predecessor even if he did believe Britain should withdraw its troops from Iraq soon - and so far he has not given any indication that he is changing the policy of staying as long as is needed by the Iraqi government.
The row with Russia is the first real foreign policy test of the Brown government and it has decided to respond in a traditional manner by expelling diplomats to express disapproval of Moscow's policies. And last Friday, our Moscow correspondent, Rupert Wingfield Hayes predicted yesterday's expulsions and analysed Russian policy towards the UK - the Russians regard the British refusal to accept that their constitution will not allow extradition of Russian citizens (and Russia is not unique in taking this approach to extradition) as political game playing.
We then spoke to the former Labour foreign secretary, Lord Owen and the former European Commissioner for external relations, Lord Patten, to get their assessment of the Brown foreign policy. They agreed that it is too early to say whether there will be a change in policy towards Washington, but they disagreed on what approach London should take to Moscow.
Lord Owen said the new government should talk to the Russians before taking action as there are other interests at stake - such as the need to keep Moscow on side to help Britain and the West over persuading Iran not to develop a nuclear weapons programme and not block the American and British plan to give Kosovo independence from Serbia against Serbian wishes, something Russia opposes. Lord Patten said the West has been pusillanimous in its relations with Russia and Russia needs Western investment in their oil and gas industry so Europe should deal collectively and more assertively with Russia.
On last night's programme (listen here) Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for President Putin accused the Foreign Office of playing politics and said Russia would respond and we're yet to see exactly what Moscow has in mind.
Clearly this story still has a little way to run, but one thing is already apparent - those predictions that the arrival of a new government would see a different foreign policy have yet to be borne out.