MOSCOW (AP) — British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson visited Moscow Friday, seeking to encourage cooperation on global security challenges despite strained relations between Russia and the West.
UK’s Johnson Visits Moscow Amid Strain in Ties With Russia
Johnson is the first foreign secretary to visit Moscow in more than five years, reflecting bitter tensions between the two countries over a range of issues, including the 2006 poisoning death of ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko and the Ukrainian crisis.
“It’s important to talk about these things and to be frank about them and to accept that they are obstructions in our relationship at the moment,” Johnson said at the start of his talks with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. “But we mustn’t let ourselves be defined by these problems.”
Lavrov also noted that the relations between the two countries are at a “very low point.” He emphasized that while British and other Western officials like to publicly air their grievances about Russia, Russia would prefer to “discuss mutual concerns face-to-face, not through microphones.”
Despite the differences, Johnson emphasized that the two nations need to cooperate on international crises, such as preserving the Iran nuclear deal, dealing with the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and helping bring peace to Syria.
“We both have a duty to our countries and to the world to work together for peace and security,” he said.
Important areas of cooperation also include security preparations for next summer’s World Cup in Russia. Thousands of British soccer fans are expected to travel to Russia, and Britain is already working with Russia to help ensure their safety.
“I know that we are already cooperating with you, our police forces are working together with you in the run-up to the football World Cup, and we look forward to making sure that fans from the U.K. enjoy their time here in Russia,” Johnson said.
Relations between Russia and the West have arguably sunk to their worst since the Cold War. A key reason for that was Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and Moscow’s support for pro-Russia separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. Allegations of Russian hackers’ attempts to destabilize nations in Europe have also strained ties.
“While I look at the difficulties in our relationship, whether it’s over Ukraine, or over the Western Balkans or what’s going on in cyber space I agree with you that it’s important to talk about these things and to be frank about them and to accept that they are obstructions in our relationship at the moment,” Johnson said.
The Litvinenko affair also has continued to cast a shadow over ties.
British Judge Robert Owen concluded in January 2016 that Litvinenko, a former KGB officer, had been poisoned by two men acting at the behest of Russia’s spy agency.
Owen said he was certain two Russians with links to the security services had given Litvinenko tea containing a fatal dose of radioactive polonium-210 at a London hotel in 2006. Russia dismissed the conclusion as unfounded.