LONDON — The London Olympics can help Russia improve diplomatic relations with Britain following several disputes, a Russian Olympic Committee leader said Thursday.
Relations between the two countries soured after the 2006 death of dissident ex-Russian security agent Alexander Litvinenko in London, with Russia refusing repeated British requests for the extradition of the chief suspect.
Litvinenko made a deathbed statement accusing Russian leader Vladimir Putin of authorizing his killing.
And at the British Parliament this week, former Foreign Office minister Denis MacShane urged the current government to tell Prime Minister Putin he is not welcome at the opening ceremony of the Olympics on July 27.
“We expect him in London,” Russian Olympic Committee Vice President Akhmed Bilalov told reporters in London on Thursday before adding with a smile: “If the British members of parliament don’t mind it of course.”
“The Moscow Olympics Games and Los Angeles Olympic Games were a big disappointment for athletes, for the people because it was politics not sport,” Bilalov, a deputy in the Legislative Assembly of Krasnodar Region, added at a reception hosted by the Russia’s Ambassador to Britain.
The frosty relations between London and Moscow led to more than four years without Putin holding talks with any British official until Prime Minister David Cameron visited Moscow in September.
Bilalov said the visit of Putin to Britain for the Olympics can “can bring together (the) countries.”
Putin, who was president from 2000-2008, is expected to return to that position by the time of the Olympics with an election on March 4.
But Labour Party legislator MacShane, a critic of Russia’s human rights record, said on Wednesday that Putin will use the London Olympics and the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia two years later “as events for self-promotion.”
“Britain should say that he is not welcome at the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics,” MacShane said.
During the July 27-Aug. 12 London Olympics, the Russian Olympic Committee will be based on a site adjacent to Kensington Palace, which will be the London residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge from 2013.
Perks Field, used by the royal family as a soccer field and a helicopter landing pad, will become “Team Russia Park”, hosting entertainment, sports stars and hospitality facilities — but no alcohol.