Putin ally hails Russian exit from 1956 fishing deal with Britain, London shrugs

FILE PHOTO: Haddock covered in ice wait to be bought at the fish market in Grimsby, Britain

By Guy Faulconbridge and Muvija M

MOSCOW/LONDON (Reuters) -A top ally of President Vladimir Putin on Thursday hailed Russia's exit from a 1956 fishing deal struck with Britain, saying it showed how Moscow could retaliate against Western sanctions, but London said the move would have no impact.

Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the State Duma lower house of parliament, said the deal had been revoked on Wednesday at Putin's behest and that lawmakers had unanimously voted in favour.

"When (Soviet leader) Nikita Khrushchev accepted this deal in 1956, it is difficult to say what guided him but it was definitely not national interest," Volodin said in a statement.

"When people ask if we can respond to sanctions, the answer is: we can. The British need to study some proverbs: 'Russians harness the horse slowly, but ride it fast'."

Russia's exit from the agreement is the latest indicator of how deep the gulf between Russia and the West has become after two years of conflict in Ukraine, though London says Moscow's step is purely symbolic.

Britain said it had received no official notification from Russia on the matter, but that British vessels did not fish in Russian waters in the Barents Sea anyway.

"UK vessels do not fish in these Russian waters so this would have no material impact on our fish supplies, including cod or haddock," a British government spokesperson said, calling the Russian move an example of Moscow's "self-inflicted isolation on the world stage."

The May 1956 fishing deal was signed in London at a turning point in the Cold War: Khrushchev had that year denounced Josef Stalin, proposed peaceful co-existence with the West and had even visited Britain in April.

Today, Moscow officially designates Britain a hostile state and Putin casts the U.S.-led West as a crumbling empire that wants to destroy Russia and steal its natural resources, while the West portrays Putin as a killer and Russia as an enemy.

The 1956 fishing deal allowed British vessels into the rich fishing grounds of the Barents Sea, the coast of the Kola Peninsula and along the coast of Kolguyev Island.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Andrew Osborn)