Bungling, bumbling British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson is the first British FM to visit Russia in the last five years. Today he was in Moscow for talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. Johnson described Russian-UK relations as “going through a bad patch“, but called for more progress on bilateral ties and coordination on issues “that matter to people of the world“, like Iran, North Korea, Syria’s future, and the fight against terrorism.
“One of the reasons for coming here is that there is no point in simply sitting on the sidelines and complaining about each other. We have to engage and we have to talk to each other. Be in no doubt that I want to see an improvement of relations between our peoples,” he said, adding that the two countries should “work hard” to address difficulties and “find a way forward” to cooperate where it is possible.
Johnson affirmed that despite poor relations, he remains “a committed Russophile” – making sure to point out his partly Russian ancestry.
Boris was entertaining, at least, in his typically buffoonish fashion. Lavrov was arguably even more entertaining:
Johnson broke out his stilted but predictably confident Russian to say “spasibo bolshoi” (which means “many thanks”) to Lavrov, and showed off his ability to understand Cyrillic by reading off the front of a notepad one of his staff had given him following a meeting with Russia’s security service, the FSB.
The foreign secretary described relations between Britain and Russia as a “very old diplomatic relationship, dating back to Ivan the Terrible.” He then admitted that Lavrov had pointed out that ‘Ivan the 4th’ is the official title of the former Russian tsar.
…Boris said he had showed just how much trust he has by “handing his hat and coat and gloves to Sergei Lavrov, safe in the knowledge he would look after it.” A laughing Lavrov responded by saying he had found “nothing” in Boris Johnson’s pockets.
The two top diplomats shared a number of chuckles together. When Johnson interrupted Lavrov during an answer about alleged Russian interference in the Brexit vote, Moscow’s representative suggested the UK official was just trying to protect his reputation in the media. The smirk on Johnson’s face gave the impression he may have agreed.
Hard to disagree with Lavrov on this one. Just last month, Johnson said he “hadn’t seen a sausage” of evidence showing Russia interfered in British politics. Here’s how Lavrov responded to Boris’s backtracking:
“I would still like to at least get some facts supporting our unsuccessful meddling. Without facts, it’s very hard to have a serious discussion. I think you’ve just made all of this up. Unfortunately, you are a sort of hostage to this subject. It’s very hard to get down from the fence you’ve climbed.”
But Johnson stood his ground, saying that he hoped the UK and Russia could “move on from this and any such efforts [at interference] should be abandoned because what the people of the world want to see is free, fair democratic elections without outside interference.”
Johnson was asked by a journalist about his recent comparison of Russia with ancient Sparta. He clarified, saying those remarks were made in reference to the Soviet Union of his youth. But once more, Lavrov had the last laugh:
Overall, Johnson and Lavrov were friendly:
Johnson offered one reassurance to those listening in. At the very least, “the relations between me and Sergey Lavrov are considerably better” than those between Stalin and Churchill. Well there’s something to build on.
Lavrov said he trusts Johnson and admitted he had seen “no hostility” and called the “friendly” nature of the talks helpful. “I hope to hold today an open, direct conversation, and I consider outlining specific steps on invigoration of our relations as the main task of this meeting,” Lavrov said as he opened talks with his British counterpart. He added that UK-Russian relations are at “a very low point,” but not on Moscow’s initiative. However, the two countries also have “mutual concerns” that should be addressed.
Lavrov quipped: “As for trust, I trust Boris so much that I’m ready to call him Boriska.”
Boris cited important evidence of improved relations between Russia and the UK: Kettle chips and Bentleys.
Boris, like the rest of the UK establishment, is stuck in their mindless repetition of “evil Russian” memes. But it’s increasingly clear that it’s all theater. When it comes down to it, these politicians know they would be better off with Russia as a partner. And that means one thing: trade. “I’m delighted that trade is increasing in spite of difficulties, in spite of the sanctions regime. We certainly want to see more of that,” Johnson said on Friday after talks with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow.
“I think we are exporting about five million pounds’ worth to Russia at the moment and it’s good news that Russian customers are now buying loads of British goods, from crisps to Bentleys, and I would in no way discourage that,” he said.
According to the Russian Trade Envoy Boris Abramov, trade between Russia and the UK has grown this year for the first time since 2014. It increased by 25 percent during the first nine months of 2017 to $9.3 billion, he said, adding “We see a significant rise in both exports and imports.”
Russian exports to the United Kingdom in January-September grew by 29.4 percent and were worth $1.4 billion.
In 2016, the volume of trade between the countries fell by 7.3 percent compared to 2015, with exports falling 7.1 percent and imports dropping 7.8 percent.
And that’s just the numbers. Boris did an excellent job in completely avoiding the elephant in the room: Russia just recently sent an emergency shipment of LNG gas to keep Britain warm this winter: