Boris Johnson cancels Russia trip just hours before take-off after US air strike on Syria

Ben Riley-Smith
Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary - AFP

Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, has dramatically cancelled plans to visit Moscow just hours before he was due to fly amid escalating tensions over Syria.

The Foreign Office announced on Saturday that Mr Johnson would not be visiting Russia for talks in the wake of America’s unilateral air strike on Syria after the use of chemical weapons.

The decision was made after consultation with Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State, about how to deal with the developing situation on Friday night.

Sources close to Mr Johnson said he would instead “lead efforts to bring together a coalition of support against ongoing Russian activity and the Syrian regime”.

It is the second time Mr Johnson has delayed the trip, which would have seen him become the first Foreign Secretary to visit Russia for half a decade.

The decision is likely to be seen as a snub by the Russians, who on Friday were said to still be preparing for the visit. 

Mr Johnson had been due to hold talks with Sergey Lavrov, his counterpart as Russian foreign minister, after flying out on Sunday. 

The pair were expected to have a working lunch before a press conference on Monday. Mr Johnson was also due to meet Russian human rights activists and UK business leaders. 

The trip would have made Mr Johnson the first Foreign Secretary to visit Russia since William Hague went to the country in May 2012. 

The decision comes after a dramatic downturn in relations between American and Russia after a chemical attack killed more than 70 Syrians, including children. 

Western leaders blamed Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian President who is being supported militarily by Russia in the civil war, for the attack. 

Donald Trump, the US President, ordered the greatest show of America firepower in more than a decade in response as 59 Tomahawk missiles hit the al-Shayrat air base near the western Syrian city of Homs. 

Russia reacted by dubbing the strikes illegal, with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev saying America was “one step away from military clashes with Russia".

The US President's decision is a change in stance after he repeatedly promised a less interventionist foreign policy during his election campaign and appeared supportive of Russian involvement in Syria to counter Isil

Mr Johnson had tweeted his backing for America’s air strike on Friday, saying he “fully” supported the military action after the “deplorable chemical attack”. 

It is unclear exactly what role he will play in the coming days or for what purpose Britain and the United States want to “bring together a coalition” against Russia’s actions in Syria. 

Any decision for the UK to take part in Syrian air strikes against Bashar al-Assad’s forces rather than Isil would likely the backing of MPs through a vote. 

American officials were said to be looking into whether Russian officials provided any support for the chemical attack, which the West has blamed on President Assad. 

Mr Johnson also delayed his trip to Russia last month in order to make a Nato meeting. 

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