December 1, 2017 / 11:48 AM / 2 years ago

Boris Johnson to visit Moscow on Dec. 22 - two sources

MOSCOW (Reuters) - British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will visit Moscow on Dec. 22 and hold talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov during his trip, two sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is pictured before attending an interview ahead of the 5th African Union - European Union (AU-EU) summit in Abidjan, Ivory Coast November 29, 2017. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

The British government announced in October that Johnson would travel to Moscow later this year - the first visit to Russia by a British foreign minister in five years - to discuss international security issues.

The date and details of his visit have not been previously reported.

Johnson’s visit comes at a time when relations between London and Moscow are strained by differences over Ukraine and Syria as well as by allegations, which Russia flatly denies, of it meddling in the politics of various European countries.

Two sources with direct knowledge of Johnson’s visit, who declined to be named because they were not authorised to speak to the media, said Britain’s top diplomat would be in the Russian capital on Friday, Dec. 22.

Alan Duncan, a junior foreign minister, will visit Russia next week to lay the ground for Johnson’s visit.

Johnson has said he wants to engage with Russia despite describing Britain’s relationship with Moscow as “not straightforward” and has suggested the West has also made mistakes in how it has handled Russia ties.

Britain’s foreign ministry says Johnson wants to use his visit to discuss North Korea, Iran and regional stability in the Middle East, as well as security for the 2018 World Cup soccer tournament in Russia.

Johnson has said he plans to also speak to figures from Russian society and the “next generation”.

He first planned to go to Moscow in March, but Britain cancelled that visit at the last minute citing changes to his schedule.

Johnson then cancelled a rescheduled visit in April due to a poison gas attack in a rebel-held area of Syria that prompted the United States to carry out missile strikes. The West accused the Syrian government, which is backed by Russia, of carrying out the attack, something Damascus and Moscow denied.

Johnson’s cancellations drew withering responses from the Russian foreign ministry whose spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, has called him unprofessional, organised an online cartoon competition that mocked him, and strongly disputed some of his assertions about Syria.

Editing by Christian Lowe

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