Boris Johnson just had an extraordinary diplomatic spat with Russia in front of some journalists

Boris Johnson and Sergey Lavrov.

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Boris Johnson and Sergey Lavrov.
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REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

  • Boris Johnson jousts with Russian counterpart in “extraordinary” Moscow press conference.
  • The UK Foreign Secretary said he was worried about Sergey Lavrov’s reputation after the Russian foreign minister accused Johnson of deliberately contradicting him.
  • Johnson is in Russia to try and repair UK-Russia relations.

LONDON – A joint press conference involving Boris Johnson and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov descended into an extraordinary diplomatic spat on Friday.

UK Foreign Secretary Johnson is in Moscow in an attempt to improve relations between London and Moscow but there was little sign of the frosty relationship thawing when he and Lavrov spoke to the media this morning.

Lavrov accused Johnson of deliberately contradicting him in order to protect his reputation, to which the Conservative minister said it was Lavrov’s reputation which he worries about, according to reports from journalists in attendance.

BuzzFeed’s Emily Ashdown reports this extraordinary exchange:

Lavrov: Boris says he has no evidence that Russia interfered on Brexit.

Johnson: Not successfully!

Lavrov: He’s afraid that if he doesn’t contradict me his reputation is going to be ruined.

Johnson: It’s your reputation I worry about!

Lavrov later denied any aggression towards Britain on Russia’s behalf and accused the UK government of making “some aggressive statements” towards Vladimir Putin’s Russian government.

“Honestly I cannot remember any actions of Russia that would have been aggressive towards the UK … we hear some aggressive statements from London … despite all that we have never taken any aggressive measures to reciprocate,” Lavrov reportedly told media.

The press conference kicked off with both politicians admitting that UK-Russia relations had reached a low.

Lavrov said problems between the countries had “piled up,” while Johnson said he wanted to see an “improvement” in diplomatic ties.

ITV News journalist Amber de Botton, who was in the room, said the press conference was “extraordinary.”

Johnson warns Russia about Britain’s cyber warfare capabilities

Johnson has warned his Russian counterpart< that Britain does not behave disruptively online but is capable of fighting fire with fire when it comes to cyber warfare tactics.

GCHQ recently told the Intelligence and Security Committee that Britain has developed “the full spectrum” of offensive cyber weapons, “from tactical stuff [redacted] right through to what we would say is the high end of counter-state offensive cyber capabilities which might never be used.”

Johnson is the first UK foreign secretary to visit Russia in five years following a period which has seen relations between London and Moscow deteriorate ever since the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.

Johnson’s warning to Russia comes after Theresa May last month accused the Kremlin of running a covert propaganda war using fake news to “sow discord” in the west and “meddle in elections.”

The prime minister said in a November speech that the west needed to tackle Putin’s regime which had become the biggest threat facing “open economies and free societies” across the globe.