Putin hopes new British PM will ‘turn the page’ on UK-Russia relations

Vladimir Putin has said he hopes the UK and Russia could “turn the page” on their relationship under Theresa May’s successor.

The Russian president acknowledged there had been “difficult times” in the relationship, which was plunged into the deep freeze by the Novichok nerve agent attack on the streets of Salisbury.

Downing Street said relations could only improve if the Kremlin changed its behaviour and ended the “patterns of aggression” it had shown around the world.

Mr Putin said the UK’s new leader should “consider the interests” of 600 British firms operating in Russia.

Speaking to the heads of international news agencies in St Petersburg, Mr Putin was asked by Press Association chief executive Clive Marshall who he would like to see as the next British prime minister and how relations between the two countries could be restored.

The Russian leader conceded that his country and the UK had gone through “difficult times in bilateral relations”, but added that they “co-operate quite well in many areas”.

“We have to finally turn the page that has to do with spies and assassinations. We were not who spied against you,” Mr Putin said. “Let’s forget it all.”

Investigators in Salisbury
Investigators in Salisbury

The president also stressed how global issues around economics, in the social sphere and global security are “much more important” than the games of the intelligence services.

“We should forget it all and just get down to business,” he added.

He also said he hopes anti-Russian sentiment “won’t be blown out of proportion”, and that a new prime minister will decide to develop relations.

“We will see who wins it,” Mr Putin said. “I would like for the next leader of the UK Government to consider the interests of 600 UK companies working in Russia.”

Mr Putin added that whoever replaces Mrs May should consider that the “UK and Russia have quite dynamic and increasing trade”.

He said: “The Eurasian Economic Union has 180 million people, and through Russia you can enter this whole market – it is a great partner in solving global issues that have to do with international security, fighting terrorism and organised crime, improving the environment.”

Downing Street defended the tough stance taken by Mrs May following the March 2018 nerve agent attack, which targeted former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia and has been blamed on Moscow’s GRU intelligence agency.

Yulia Skripal
Yulia Skripal

A Number 10 spokeswoman said: “The use of Novichok nerve agent on British soil was a sickening and despicable act and a clear violation of the chemical weapons convention.

“We have been clear that Russia’s pattern of aggression and destabilising behaviour undermines its claims to be a responsible international partner.

“We will continue to engage with Russia on matters of international security, as this is in the UK’s national interest and we are both permanent members of the UN Security Council.

“However, the PM has made clear on numerous occasions that we can only have a different relationship if Russia changes its behaviour.”