Boris Johnson says Russia is 'up to all sorts of no good' ahead of Moscow visit

Ian Silvera
Boris Johnson speaking about Russia

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has thrown caution to the wind once again and risked sparking a diplomatic row with Russia on Monday (6 March), just weeks before he plans to travel to Moscow for "high level" talks.

Vladimir Putin's administration has meddled with other countries and has "got to change, they have to show that they can be trusted again", Johnson told reporters outside the EU Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels.

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The senior Conservative also said he would seek to engage with the Russian government in a bid to understand "where they are coming from" and to "get them back onto a better path" instead of reverting back to the heightened tensions of the Cold War era.

Johnson's remarks come after the UK foreign secretary accepted an invitation from his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, to hold talks in Moscow over the coming weeks.

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The last time a British minister visited Russia was in 2012 when former Foreign Secretary William Hague travelled to Moscow.

The UK Government has been critical of Russia's involvement in the Syrian civil war and backed EU sanctions against the Kremlin following the 2014 annexation of Crimea. Whitehall sources have described Johnson's planned face-to-face meeting with Lavrov in Russia as a "guarded engagement".

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The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee recently warned that the UK Foreign Office has haemorrhaged Russia experts since the break-up of the Soviet Union. The cross-party group of MPs, chaired by Conservative Crispin Blunt, also said engagement with Russia was crucial.

"Given Russia's size and history, the relationship between our two countries matters," Blunt said. "But it is fraught. Refusal to engage with Russia is not a viable, long-term policy option.

"The committee agrees with the prime minister's advice to the US Republican caucus: 'Engage but beware.'."

The Foreign Office said it had increased its number of Russian speakers by nearly a third over the past six years.

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