UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov acknowledged significant problems in their countries’ relationship after meeting Friday in Moscow, but said they would seek to expand cooperation on international issues.
Johnson, who was making the first visit of a UK Foreign Secretary to Moscow in five years, said the “difficulties” could not be ignored but that the two nations “have to find a way forward.”
Key points of contention include Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its activities in cyberspace, Johnson said, speaking alongside Lavrov at a joint news conference.
However, the two nations have a shared objective of avoiding conflict on the Korean Peninsula and ensuring that North Korea does not have nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles, Johnson said. They also both want to see peace in Syria, he said.
Lavrov said the talks were “extremely useful” and that he hoped they would help to normalize Russia-UK relations.
Moscow is ready for dialogue with London “on a very wide range of issues on the basis of principles of equality (and) taking into account and respecting each other’s interests,” Lavrov said.
Lavrov rejected claims of Russian meddling in US and European election campaigns and in Britain’s referendum on whether to leave the European Union, saying that no “hard facts” had been produced to back them up.
Johnson countered this argument, saying there was “alas, abundant evidence of Russian interference in elections in Germany, Denmark, France, America but as I’ve said, no evidence of any successful interference in the UK.”
Johnson added: “I think it’s very important that Russian attempts to meddle in our elections and our referendums have not been successful … I think had it been successful, that would have been an entirely different matter.”
The two diplomats expressed a desire to build on progress in cultural, artistic and economic areas, as well as cooperation over science and space, as they seek to improve relations.
As he welcomed Johnson to the closed-door meeting, Lavrov said it was “not a secret” that the Russia-UK relationship was at a “very low point.”
He also said that this deterioration in relations was not Russia’s fault.
“We noticed that you and other Western colleagues have their own view of the reasons behind this situation and they prefer to publicly express these reasons,” Lavrov said. “Whereas we prefer to discuss mutual concerns directly, not with mics in front of us, but face to face.”
Ahead of the meeting, the UK Foreign Office said that Johnson would demand that Russia stop “destabilizing activities which threaten the national security of the UK and its allies.”
CNN’s Mary Ilyushina reported from Moscow and Laura Smith-Spark wrote from London.