May 24, 2018 / 1:55 PM / 5 months ago

Yerevan calling? UK's Johnson discusses Russia with hoax caller in latest gaffe

LONDON, May 24 (Reuters) - Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson talked international relations and rude poetry with a hoax caller who pretended to be the Armenian Prime Minister in an embarrassing new gaffe for one of Britain’s most prominent politicians.

In an 18 minute call, Johnson discussed relations with Russia, the Iran nuclear deal and the Syrian war, according to audio of the call uploaded on YouTube and shared on the Twitter pages of Russian pranksters Vovan and Lexus.

Britain’s foreign office confirmed that Johnson had been hoaxed and said the perpetrator was “childish”.

The caller, impersonating Armenia’s new Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, said he was going to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I hope he will not poison me with Novichok,” the prankster joked, referring to a nerve agent used in the March attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, for which Britain has blamed Russia. Johnson can be heard chuckling on the other end of the line.

Later in the call, Johnson said he would like to come to Armenia to find out more about “Armenia’s Novichok experiences”, and they also talk about sanctions against Russia and high-profile individuals.

“You throw a stone in Kensington and you’ll hit an oligarch,” Johnson said, in reference to the central London district favoured by Russian tycoons. “Some of them are close to Putin and some of them aren’t.”

Johnson is no stranger to controversy. In the run-up to Britain’s 2016 referendum on EU membership, he compared the goals of the European Union to those of Adolf Hitler and Napoleon, causing consternation in European capitals.

Also in 2016, Johnson wrote a controversial poem about Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, involving wild oats and a goat, which the prankster complimented him on.

“You’re very kind,” Johnson said, before trying to bring the call to a close. Some minutes later, as the prankster is talking, the line goes quiet.

“The Foreign Secretary realised it was a hoax and ended the call. We checked it out and knew immediately it was a prank call,” the Foreign Office said in a statement.

“The use of chemical weapons in Salisbury and Syria, and recent events in Armenia are serious matters. These childish actions show the lack of seriousness of the caller and those behind him.”

Editing by Stephen Addison

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