Defining Dialogue: How to Manage Russia–UK Security Relations

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Main Image Credit UK Prime Minister Theresa May with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China, in September 2016. Courtesy of President of Russia/Wikimedia.

Even though there is a state of ‘deep-freeze’ between the UK and Russia, especially in relation to security, there are still important opportunities for dialogue and cooperation which policymakers on both sides should exploit.

The Russian version of the report can be found here. 

This conference report summarises the discussions at two bilateral meetings held in London and Moscow between experts from the UK and Russia. The meetings sought to explore the security challenges facing the two countries, and to assist policymakers on both sides to identify realistic potential areas of engagement, as well as to confirm areas that are unlikely to produce results.

They were organised by RUSI in collaboration with the Moscow-based Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), and were attended by participants from various UK and Moscow-based institutions.

At the meetings the participants examined a range of security challenges and made a series of recommendations to improve future UK–Russia security relations.

The report notes that risk reduction and confidence building are seen as ‘a particular challenge’ due to ‘the apparent absence of rules and the ability to effectively signal to each other, which had even existed during the Cold War'. To counter this, the participants at the meetings recommended further bilateral UK–Russian military engagement, with one UK participant saying ‘it is not a concession to Russia from the West and does not symbolise appeasement’. This could be done through existing forums, such as the NATO–Russia Council or the OSCE, or through a ‘new dedicated bilateral forum'.

Participants also argued that in order to achieve better understanding, future discussions should consider the differences in perspectives between the two countries, with the Russian side arguing that ‘the West had too often framed foreign policy relationships in terms of "values", whereas Russia does so more in terms of interests’. Therefore, discussions should ‘focus on the different approaches each side has towards security issues to ensure that options to find solutions or compromise are exhausted before they are dismissed’.

Finally, participants found that while there was often disagreement between both sides, there is still an appetite for dialogue on shared security interests. UK policymakers have signalled that ‘despite the political tensions with Russia, they are open to dialogue and potential cooperation where it could be beneficial to the interests of both sides’, a view shared by a majority of Russia’s political community. To this end, the attendees recommended that further discussions should be held in focused working groups involving more government and practitioner participation.


Sarah Lain is a Research Fellow in International Security Studies at RUSI. Her research focuses on the post-Soviet space, in particular Russia and Central Asia.

Dr Andrey Kortunov is the Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council.


Sarah Lain

Associate Fellow

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