Mandelson’s mission to Moscow

It makes sense that the British government would want to smooth over relations with Russia by sending a cabinet minister to visit Moscow, the first such visit in over a year. But couldn’t the Brits have sent someone — anyone — other than Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, who is currently at the center of a ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
591789_081030_mandelson2.jpg
591789_081030_mandelson2.jpg

It makes sense that the British government would want to smooth over relations with Russia by sending a cabinet minister to visit Moscow, the first such visit in over a year. But couldn't the Brits have sent someone -- anyone -- other than Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, who is currently at the center of a scandal over his relationship with a Russian oligarch?

Mandelson's friendly overtures to the Kremlin have been entirely overshadowed by questions from the British press. At issue is whether favors from metals magnate Oleg Deripaska played a role in Mandelson's decision to reduce aluminum tariffs while he was EU trade commissioner, a decision that greatly benefited Russia's richest man. Months after the change, Deripaska entertained Mandelson and other VIPs on his yacht in the Mediterranean.

Mandelson angrily brushed aside a question about the scandal during a press conference Wednesday, telling the reporter, "You have wasted your question." Mandelson has been cleared by the British government of any wrongdoing, but during a BBC interview, also yesterday, he noticeably failed to deny that he and Deripaska had discussed lowering the tariffs prior to the decision being made.

It makes sense that the British government would want to smooth over relations with Russia by sending a cabinet minister to visit Moscow, the first such visit in over a year. But couldn’t the Brits have sent someone — anyone — other than Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, who is currently at the center of a scandal over his relationship with a Russian oligarch?

Mandelson’s friendly overtures to the Kremlin have been entirely overshadowed by questions from the British press. At issue is whether favors from metals magnate Oleg Deripaska played a role in Mandelson’s decision to reduce aluminum tariffs while he was EU trade commissioner, a decision that greatly benefited Russia’s richest man. Months after the change, Deripaska entertained Mandelson and other VIPs on his yacht in the Mediterranean.

Mandelson angrily brushed aside a question about the scandal during a press conference Wednesday, telling the reporter, “You have wasted your question.” Mandelson has been cleared by the British government of any wrongdoing, but during a BBC interview, also yesterday, he noticeably failed to deny that he and Deripaska had discussed lowering the tariffs prior to the decision being made.

The tabloids have been having a field day with the $9,000-a-night hotel suite where Lord Mandelson is staying during his Moscow visit, a questionable PR move during an economic crisis. The Daily Mail proclaimed the room, “Fit for an Oligarch.” It also can’t help Mandelson that Deripaska is back in the headlines for the $4.5 billion bailout he received from the Russian government this week.

The Brits might want a do-over on this one.

Photo: Alexey SAZONOV/AFP/Getty Images

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.