British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has clashed with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov over cyber attacks and other issues, pushing relations between London and Moscow to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.
The tense comments were made at press conference in Moscow on Friday, the first visit to Russia by a UK foreign minister in five years.
The top British diplomat also warned Moscow to stop “destabilizing” European countries and end “meddling” in elections around the world.
Lavrov issued a stinging rebuke and told Johnson that the declining relationship between the two countries was “not because of our side.”
Lavrov greeted Johnson and said that bilateral relations between Russia and the UK were “at a low level.”
Lavrov accused Johnson of making “insulting” statements ahead of the meeting. He rebuked Johnson for speaking publicly on issues ahead of their meeting, saying Russia preferred to talk privately.
“Our relations with Russia cannot be ‘business as usual’ whilst Russia continues to attempt to destabilize European states, including Ukraine,” Johnson said in a statement Thursday released by his office before the talks.
The visit by UK’s top diplomat comes at a time when relations between Britain and Russia are strained by differences over Ukraine and Syria as well as by allegations, which Russia completely rejects, of it meddling in the politics of US and European countries.
Johnson said he also wanted to discuss working together to preserve the international nuclear agreement with Iran and the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday that it was London’s decision to scale back British-Russian dialogue, which she called groundless and untimely.
Zakharova has sharply criticized Johnson in the past, calling him unprofessional and organizing an online cartoon competition that mocked him, while she has strongly disputed some of his assertions about the conflict in Syria.
In the US, American President Donald Trump has repeatedly denied allegations that his election campaign colluded with Russia.
US intelligence agencies claim that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to try to help Trump defeat then Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton.