Russia warning over democracy calls


British Foreign Secretary William Hague, right, greets Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov (AP)

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has issued a sharp warning to the West over calls for the spread of democracy in the Middle East in the wake of the popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

Following talks in London with Foreign Secretary William Hague, Mr Lavrov said that calls for revolution in the region were “counter-productive”.

He also hit out at the United States and Europe for imposing further sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme without wider international backing.

He warned that Russia would not support further measures which created “social problems” for the Iranian population.

Mr Lavrov’s visit had been billed as an attempt to rebuild relations between Britain and Russia, which have been problematic since the murder in London of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.

At their joint news conference on Tuesday, Mr Hague said they were working to achieve a “patient, steady improvement” in relations – including an agreement to modernise the hotline between Number 10 and the Kremlin. He acknowledged that “serious disagreements” remained between them.

Mr Lavrov warned that attempts to encourage the spread of “democracy of a specific pattern” to other Middle East states such as Iran and Bahrain could backfire on the West.

He pointed to the Palestinian elections which resulted in victory in Gaza for the Islamist organisation, Hamas. “We need to understand the consequences of such encouragement,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.

“We don’t think it is right to encourage specific schemes of action in terms of the Middle East states. We have had one revolution in Russia and we don’t believe that we need to call for others.”

His comments appeared to be aimed at US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who said she “clearly and directly” supported anti-government protesters who took to the streets in Iran following the ousting of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

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