Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to visit Russia

By James Landale
Diplomatic correspondent

Image source, AFP

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is to visit Moscow in coming weeks, the Foreign Office has announced.

His meetings will focus on the relationship between the UK and Russia, as well as issues involving Syria and Ukraine "where we continue to have significant differences", it said.

The Foreign Office said the UK "will engage with Russia where it is in our national interest to do so".

The timings and details of the visit will be released "in due course".

A spokeswoman said: "The foreign secretary has accepted an invitation from Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov to visit Moscow in the coming weeks.

"The prime minister and the foreign secretary have made clear that our policy towards Russia is to 'engage but beware' and the visit is entirely consistent with this approach.

"This is not a return to business as usual and the foreign secretary will continue to be robust on those issues where we differ."

A Foreign Office source insisted that the visit did not signal any shift in UK policy towards Russia.

"He is not going in order to reset the relationship. He has been clear in his calls with Lavrov that this can't happen till they change course on issues such as Ukraine.

"He intends to say the same things face to face as we do in public and in Parliament about Russian activities. While it may be a tough visit, that is what needs to be done."

The source added: "Boris has always said we must engage when in our interests. He calls it 'guarded engagement'. He will be robust in the meetings and defend our position. This is not about cosying up, in fact quite the opposite."

'Dirty tricks'

Mr Johnson's trip will see him become the first minister to travel to Moscow for an official visit in more than five years.

On a visit to Kiev last week, the foreign secretary said Russia's annexation of Crimea was illegal and insisted that it should be returned to Ukraine.

He has also said there was no case for relaxing sanctions against Russia until it abided by the Minsk peace agreement.

Mr Johnson has been hugely critical of Russia recently, accusing it of engaging in "dirty tricks" such as cyber attacks. The Russian embassy in London has responded by accusing him of trying to reopen the Cold War.

Speaking in Germany last month, Mr Johnson told the BBC: "You have got to engage with Russia, but you have got to engage in a very guarded way. You have got to beware of what they are up to.

"There is no question that, when you look at Russian activity on the cyber front, when you look at what they are doing in the western Balkans, when you look at what has been happening in the Ukraine, you've got to be very, very cautious.

"I think it is entirely right to have a dual track approach. We don't want to get into a new Cold War."

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