Boris Johnson Nixes Moscow Trip, Russia Calls Decision `Absurd'

  • U.K. foreign secretary says G-7 talks on Syria are ‘priority’
  • Russia Support for Syria’s Assad is on Group of Seven agenda

U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson canceled a trip to Moscow over the conflict in Syria, fueling the crisis between Russia and the west after a U.S. missile strike against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Johnson attends a press conference on the Syria crisis on April 5.

Photographer: John Thys/AFP via Getty Images

With Syria on the agenda when the Group of Seven’s foreign ministers meet in Italy on Monday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Johnson’s preference to discuss Syria with his G-7 peers was an “absurd” reason to cancel and a sign of erratic policy. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson still plans to visit Moscow after the G-7 meeting to deliver a “clear and coordinated message to the Russians,” Johnson said on the U.K. Foreign Office’s website on Saturday.

The escalation over Syria began Thursday after the U.S. fired missiles at a government air base citing a suspected chemical weapons attack on a Syrian rebel-held town. U.S. officials said Russia bears responsibility for backing Assad and extending the six-year-old conflict, raising tension between the former Cold War rivals to the highest level since President Donald Trump took office in January.

“There’s an impression that our western colleagues live in their own parallel reality,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said by text message when asked about Johnson’s decision. “First, they try to build joint plans single-handedly and then -- again single-handedly -- change them, inventing absurd reasons.”

‘Most Unpredictable’

The missile strike shows that the U.S. is “the most unpredictable” country, and Russia “will ask questions” of Tillerson when he visits Moscow, Zakharova told state television.

USS Porter launches Tomahawk cruise missles.

Source: US Navy

“What happened, of course, largely sets back our cooperation” on Syria, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov was quoted as saying by Interfax.

There’s no evidence that chemical weapons were stockpiled at the Shayrat airfield targeted by the strike, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in an emailed statement. No personnel at the base uses gas masks, he said.

Johnson said in a Twitter posting that he won’t be going to Moscow on Monday. “My priority” is to attend the G-7 talks to discuss “Syria and Russia’s support for Assad,” he said.

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