British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to visit Russia with ‘engage but beware’ message


British Foreign Secretary arrives for the weekly meeting of the cabinet at 10 Downing Street in central London on February 7, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will meet his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow for high level talks in coming weeks, the Foreign Office has announced.
The visit, at Moscow’s invitation, will be the first such trip by a British foreign minister in the last five years.
It had “been in the pipeline for some time” with UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Russian President Vladimir Putin since they met in China last September, a Foreign Office spokeswoman said in a statement on Saturday.
“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,” she said.
Discussions between Johnson and Lavrov will be focused on the relationship between the UK and Russia.
Issues involving Syria and Ukraine where both sides “continue to have significant differences” will also be high on the agenda, according to the spokeswoman.
Since taking up the post in July, Johnson has publicly been criticizing Moscow and its , particularly in regard with Ukraine and Syria.
According to a source in his office, Johnson “will continue to be robust on those issues where we differ.”
“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,” said the source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
During an emergency Commons debate on Syria late last year, Johnson called for demonstrations outside the Russian Embassy in London in protest at the Russian air campaign in Syria.
In a visit to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, Johnson ruled out relaxing sanctions against Russia.
The West has imposed several rounds of sanctions against Russia, accusing Moscow of destabilizing Ukraine since Crimea decided to rejoin the Russian Federation in a referendum in March 2014.
Moscow, however, has strongly dismissed the accusations and rejects having a hand in the crisis gripping Ukraine.

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