By Andrew Osborn
MOSCOW (Reuters) – British foreign minister Boris Johnson will tell his Russian counterpart in talks on Friday that there can be no “business as usual” between the two countries until Moscow stops trying to “destabilise” Europe.
Johnson will hold talks in Moscow with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov during what is the first visit to Russia by a British foreign minister in five years.
His visit comes at a time when relations between London and Moscow are strained by differences over Ukraine and Syria as well as by allegations, which Russia flatly denies, of it meddling in the politics of various European countries.
“Our relations with Russia cannot be ‘business as usual’ whilst Russia continues to attempt to destabilise European states, including Ukraine,” Johnson said in a statement released by his office before the talks.
“However, it is vital for international security that we do talk to each other – as the consequences of miscommunication or misunderstanding are grave. My visit to Russia comes at a critical time as we need to work together to solve the world’s most pressing global challenges.”
Johnson said he wanted to discuss working together to preserve the Iran nuclear deal and the threat posed by North Korea, as well as security arrangements for next year’s soccer World Cup which is being held in Russia.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who has sharply criticised Johnson in the past, said on Thursday that the decision to scale back British-Russian dialogue had been London’s and one she called groundless and untimely.
Zakharova has previously called Johnson unprofessional, organised an online cartoon competition that mocked him, and strongly disputed some of his assertions about Syria.
When asked on Thursday by Russian reporters what she made of Johnson’s recent statements criticising Moscow, Zakharova said the statements had caused only laughter in Russia and were not worth getting upset about.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn Additional reporting by William James in London; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)