Russia's Medvedev says open to thaw with Britain

MOSCOW Tue Mar 25, 2008 7:31am EDT

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian president-elect Dmitry Medvedev said on Tuesday he was open to repairing relations with Britain that have been brought to a post-Cold War low by a row over the murder of a Kremlin critic.

Moscow and London have traded angry rhetoric, expelled each others' diplomats and curtailed cooperation between their intelligence services following Moscow's refusal to extradite a suspect in the 2006 murder in London of Alexander Litvinenko.

Russia also forced the British government's cultural arm to close two regional offices. Medvedev, speaking in an interview with the Financial Times newspaper published on Tuesday, said London and not Moscow had initiated the curbs on relations.

"This, of course, is not very good," Medvedev said, according to a Russian-language transcript of the interview posted on the Kremlin's Internet site www.kremlin.ru.

"It is not a tragedy. We can restore the whole specter of full bilateral cooperation, of course, without preliminary conditions, understanding the independence of each others' positions," he said.

"After my election to the post of president, (British Prime Minister Gordon) .. Brown was one of the first to congratulate me. We are open to the restoration of cooperation in full," said Medvedev, who will be sworn in as president on May 7.

DOUBLE ACT

A 42-year-old former law professor, Medvedev is taking over from his mentor, the outgoing President Vladimir Putin. In an unusual arrangement for a country accustomed to a single, strong leader, Putin is to stay on as Medvedev's prime minister.

Speaking in his first interview since winning a March 2 presidential election, Medvedev also touched on a number of other subjects:

* He denied there was an ulterior motive behind a police raid last week on the Russian offices of oil major BP and its Russian joint venture TNK-BP, and the arrest of a TNK-BP employee. He said the action was part of a criminal investigation into industrial espionage.

* He said inflation, which in year-on-year terms is running at nearly 13 percent, "remains a fairly serious problem for the Russian economy." But he said Russia's prudent financial policies would allow it to ride out turbulence on global markets.

* Asked about how he and Putin would work together, he said their roles were clearly laid out in the constitution. "I am sure that this kind of combination, this kind of tandem, will show its absolute effectiveness," he said.

* He denied the media were subject to restrictions, saying Russia had a thriving and diverse media market.

* He said he planned to improve respect for the law to counter what he has called "legal nihilism." An important element of this drive would be to raise the status of judges and enhance their independence from officials.

* Medvedev said he wanted to see reform of state corporations, which some investors complain have a stranglehold on key sectors of the economy. He said the firms have a role, but that they should hire more independent directors.

(Writing by Christian Lowe; editing by Keith Weir)

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