This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told Vladimir Putin in their first official meeting that Moscow must not repeat a chemical attack on Britain like the 2018 nerve agent attack in Salisbury against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal.
Downing Street said Johnson told the Russian president on the sidelines of a summit in Berlin on January 19 that ties between Moscow and London will not return to normal until Russia ends its “destabilizing” activities.
“The prime minister said there will be no normalization of our bilateral relationship until Russia ends the destabilizing activity that threatens the U.K. and our allies and undermines the safety of our citizens and our collective security,” Johnson’s office said.
The statement said Johnson told Putin “there had been no change in the U.K.’s position on Salisbury, which was a reckless use of chemical weapons and a brazen attempt to murder innocent people on U.K. soil.”
The Kremlin rejects Britain’s accusations that Russian GRU military intelligence agents used Novichok, a powerful nerve agent, to poison Skripal in retribution for his work with British and other Western spy services.
Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, both spent days in a coma but survived and have since gone into hiding.
On January 19, Johnson’s office said, the British prime minister told Putin “they both had a responsibility to address issues of international security including Libya, Syria, Iraq and Iran”.
But the British leader also made clear that this dialogue did not mean London’s relations with the Kremlin were back on track, the statement said.
Johnson has a long history of feuds with Putin.
Shortly after the March 2018 Novichok attack, when Johnson was Britain’s foreign secretary in the cabinet of then-Prime Minister Theresa May, he blamed Putin personally and criticized the Kremlin over the poisoning of the Skripals.
“Our quarrel is with Putin’s Kremlin, and with his decision, and we think it overwhelmingly likely that it was his decision to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the U.K., on the streets of Europe, for the first time since World War II,” Johnson said. “That is why we are at odds with Russia.”
The Kremlin lashed back at Johnson’s remarks as “unforgivable.”
“Any reference or mention of our president in this regard is a shocking and unforgivable breach of diplomatic rules of decent behavior,” the Kremlin responded.
Also in 2018, as Russia was preparing to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Johnson said that Putin would revel in the tournament in the same way that Adolf Hitler did when Berlin hosted the 1936 Olympic Games.