Britain’s Foreign Secretary issued a stern warning against Russia saying that Britain is 'prepared and able' to launch massive retaliatory cyber-attacks. Boris Johnson arrived in Moscow yesterday for talks and he said that the UK 'cannot accept' Russia's 'destabilising' cyber activity against the West.
Mr. Johnson is expected to hold meetings with his counterpart Sergei Lavrov today, in which he will complain about Russian-backed hackers' efforts to attack critical UK infrastructure. He’s also expected to underline Britain's growing offensive cyber capability, after GCHQ this week revealed it has developed sophisticated weapons that could cripple a hostile country.
This comes after it emerged that an alleged Russian spy had met Theresa May in Downing Street in July, Mr. Johnson told reporters on a flight to Moscow that Russia should understand that the UK had developed a powerful cyber deterrent mechanism.
However, he did not unveil further details, but added: 'The UK is certainly prepared and able to respond should we so desire.
'I can assure you the UK is a world leader in this field. We do not conduct malign or disruptive cyber activity but … the logic of deterrence is clearly something we now appreciate in the cyber field and that is something we have acquired.'
This is the first UK foreign secretary to visit Russia for five years. He said relations 'haven't been so bad for a very long time' – and Moscow was behaving in a 'more hostile way' towards British interests than at any time since the Cold War.
Mr. Johnson was asked whether he trusted the Russian government, he said: 'It is very hard to attach credence to some of the things they have claimed over the last few years.'He will warn Mr Lavrov that the UK will never accept Russia's annexation of Crimea, its hostile action in Ukraine or its threats against Nato allies in the Baltics.
The Foreign Secretary will also hold talks with Russian dissidents in a show of disapproval, including gay rights activists, who face growing persecution by Vladimir Putin's regime. Last night Mr Johnson accused President Putin of placing Russia 'in direct opposition to the West'.
However, he added: 'It doesn't have to be that way … relations with Russia cannot be business as usual whilst Russia continues to attempt to destabilise European states … However, it is vital for international security that we do talk to each other as the consequences of miscommunication or misunderstanding are grave.'
The 2011 murder of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned with radioactive polonium in a central London hotel by Russian agents affected the relations with the Kremlin. Mr. Putin's support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad further soured links with the West. Moscow has backed Assad's attacks on his own people and vetoed 11 attempts to take action at the UN.
Relations were plunged into the deep freeze when Russia seized the Ukrainian territory of Crimea in 2014 – action which led to Russia being booted out of the G8 and the imposition of sanctions against the Putin regime.
Last month, in a message to President Putin, the Prime Minister said: 'We know what you are doing and you will not succeed. Because you underestimate the resilience of our democracies, the enduring attraction of free and open societies and the commitment of Western nations to the alliances that bind us.'