Boris Johnson and Russian foreign minister in public row over referendum 'meddling'

State Duma committee head Leonid Levin

State Duma committee head Leonid Levin

British foreign minister Boris Johnson told his Russian counterpart on Friday there was " abundant evidence" of Moscow meddling in foreign elections, but said any Russian efforts to interfere in last year's Brexit referendum had fallen flat.

During the first official visit by a foreign minister from London in five years, the outspoken Johnson tried to open lines of communication and the two diplomats made attempts to show their two countries were willing to overcome years of differences.

Although the relationship between Russia and the United Kingdom is at a low, this chill wasn't initiated by Moscow, Sergei Lavrov said, adding that the Russian authorities "would prefer to discuss mutual concerns directly".

The two nations need to cooperate on worldwide crises, Mr Johnson said, such as preserving the Iran nuclear deal, addressing the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear programme, and helping bring peace to Syria.

He said: "I am a Russophile, a committed Russophile".

Ahead of the meeting in Moscow, it was briefed that Johnson would warn Russian Federation to stop cyber-attacks that threaten the UK's national security or face retaliation.

"Sergey, it's your reputation I am anxious about", Johnson responded.

He said: "It's no secret that our relations are at a low point and that's not at our initiative".

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The evening round will be part of a strong cold front that will bring in arctic air behind it to start next week. Accumulations will be minor, but it's possible that we could see and inch or two during the day on Monday.

In a move likely to further aggravate his hosts, Johnson later laid a bunch of roses at the spot where opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was assassinated in 2015.

"Problems have accumulated and their burden pulls us backwards, although both parties want to find ways to overcome them", Lavrov said.

Mr Johnson insisted there was "abundant evidence" that Russian Federation had attempted to influence polls in the US, Germany, Denmark and France.

Boris Johnson for his part acknowledged the "difficulties" in relations with Russian Federation, adding: "It is a regrettable state of affairs but it should not preclude co-operation".

"It's your reputation I'm anxious about, Sergei", Johnson hit back jokingly in a tense exchange through interpreters.

Lavrov disagreed, stating Moscow's position that Crimea was incorporated into Russian Federation following a democratic referendum.

"We never accused London of anything. On the contrary we heard some accusations - sometimes in an insulting manner - against us that we allegedly support the criminal regime in Syria, that we are aggressors and occupiers and annex someone's territories".

Mr Johnson added that if Russian attempts to interfere in Britain's referendums and elections - "whatever they might be" - had been successful, "that would have been an entirely different matter".

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