The foreign secretary Boris Johnson has visited Russia, but the meeting has just highlighted the tense relationship between the two countries.
Ahead of the meeting in Moscow, it was briefed that Johnson would warn Russia to stop cyber-attacks that threaten the UK’s national security or face retaliation.
It comes after an official report revealed that the UK has more than doubled the number of its offensive cyber-capabilities in recent years.
The meeting between Boris Johnson and Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow was the first in five years, and it did not go well it seems.
At the end of the talks, the BBC cited Johnson as saying that the UK’s relations with Russia are “not on a good footing” but he wants them to improve.
However, Russia’s Lavrov accused the UK of making “insulting” statements ahead of the meeting.
He was referring to the pre-meeting comments made by the British government, warning Russia over its cyber campaigns. Prime Minister Theresa May also said last month that Russia was trying to “undermine free societies”.
Russia’s Lavrov did however say that he trusted Boris Johnson and they had agreed on the need to work together on UN Security Council.
But even Lavrov could not hide the poor state of the relation between the UK and Russia.
Lavrov said it was no secret that Britain’s relations with Russia were at a low point, and he reportedly rebuked Johnson for speaking publicly on issues ahead of their meeting, saying Russia preferred to talk privately.
Boris Johnson for his part acknowledged the “difficulties” in relations with Russia, adding: “It is a regrettable state of affairs but it should not preclude co-operation.”
The two countries do need to work together to resolve pressing global issues such as North Korea, and Syria. But standing in the way of that is Russia’s aggression in the Ukraine, and Russia’s ongoing cyber-attacks against global targets.
In its report this week, the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (ISC) warned of Russia’s more “brazen approach to its cyber activities.
That warning came after “the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton,” when it hacked the Democratic National Committee emails.
Britain’s GCHQ has previously warned that UK democracy is at risk from Russian nation-state cyber attacks, despite Putin’s insistence that the Russian government has never been involved in any such activities.
Besides Western targets, Russia has been actively hitting targets in the Ukraine. Ukraine has been fighting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, after Russian forces invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014.
In December 2015 a cyber attack left parts of western Ukraine, including regional capital Ivano-Frankivsk, without power for almost six hours.
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