LEADER: Plenty of energy but a deadly image

Whether you like it or not, the Russians are coming. Actually, to the Russians, it is important that you don’t dislike it too much.

Companies such as Gazprom – the world’s largest natural gas producer – are worried about hostility from the UK media, politicians and general public. A document obtained by The Daily Telegraph this week reveals how determined Gazprom is to turn around ‘hostility’ and ‘negative attitudes’.

Russian firms see a huge commercial opportunity in the UK. The government’s Energy White Paper, published on Wednesday, only underlined the difficulties we are finding in meeting ever-increasing demands for energy. And ‘green’ energy at that.

Gazprom supplies around two per cent of UK gas, but is targeting 15 per cent in the medium term. It is also looking at buying Centrica, for which it would need senior opinion formers onside.

But apart from the national security fears of becoming too reliant on Russian for energy, our former cold war rival has some serious image problems to overcome.

A major diplomatic row looms after Tony Blair demanded, on Tuesday, the extradition from Russia of Andrei Lugovoi, the man accused of murdering Alexander Litvinenko in London last year.

While the UK government realises that strong links with Russia are useful in achieving both commercial and global strategic objectives, it recognises that no-one can be seen to be above British law.

Martin Sixsmith, former spin doctor and BBC Moscow correspondent, has fuelled the flames with his new book The Litvinenko File. The book shows how the Putin government is facing a PR onslaught from dissident Boris Berezovsky and his PR man Lord Bell.

The UK arm of Gazprom is lucky to have a comms chief as good as Philip Dewhurst (former BNFL), but if Russian firms are to achieve their UK ambitions they are going to need many more advisors of his calibre.

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