British, Russian chief diplomats spar at news conference

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov clashed publicly at a joint news conference Friday — hashing out differences and accusing each other of being dishonest, in full public display.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) and British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Boris Johnson attend a news conference Friday following talks in Moscow, Russia. Photo by EPA-EFE/Maxim Shipenkov
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) and British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Boris Johnson attend a news conference Friday following talks in Moscow, Russia. Photo by EPA-EFE/Maxim Shipenkov

Johnson made the trip to Moscow, the first by a British chief diplomat in five years, to bridge differences between London and the Kremlin — partly relating to Britain’s planned departure from the European Union.

Instead, Friday’s unusual spat — which occurred in front of the press and other diplomats — may have only made things worse.

Johnson criticized Russia about the war in Ukraine and cyberattacks against the West. Lavrov said the differences should be aired privately — but fired back by rejecting claims that Moscow has interfered in London’s EU exit, known colloquially as “Brexit.”

Lavrov accused Johnson of being a “hostage” of false Western narratives and of deliberately being contradictory to protect his reputation.

Other debates Friday included talks about Libya, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and North Korea.

Johnson said ongoing fighting in Ukraine, Russian cyber activities and problems faced by the gay population in Chechnya cannot be ignored. He added that relations between Britain and Russia were going through a “very difficult patch.”

At one point, Johnson joked that he’d handed over his coat and hat to Lavrov in a display of trust.

“There was nothing in the pockets,” Lavrov noted, to which a surprised Johnson replied, “You’ve checked? How do you know?”

During the conference, Lavrov said he trusted Johnson and is “ready to develop dialogue on a very wide range of issues on the basis of principles of equality (and) taking into account and respecting each other’s interests.”

Johnson said they must “find a way forward.”

By Susan McFarland