Putin’s man in London says ‘mud-slinging’ means our relationship with Moscow is ‘close to frozen’ – Daily Mail



Vladimir Putin’s man in London has warned relations between Westminster and Moscow are ‘close to being frozen’ – with Russia in ‘no hurry’ to ease tensions.

In his first major newspaper interview since his appointment last year, Mr Putin’s ambassador Andrei Kelin denied claims that his nation had interfered in British politics.

Brushing off accusations that the Kremlin has waged a campaign of hacking and meddling, Mr Kelin said: ‘I feel that Britain exaggerates, very much, its place in Russian thinking.’

He denied Moscow had leaked sensitive documents by hacking Liam Fox’s emails, or attempted to steal British coronavirus vaccine research. He also denied that Russia had interfered in the Brexit referendum, and dismissed claims it fired a ‘space weapon’ last month.

Boris baron: Evgeny Lebedev, the owner of the London Evening Standard newspaper and son of a former KGB agent, with pop star Rita Ora at The Theatre Royal in London in 2018

Russia’s political interference in Britain was described as ‘the new normal’ in a report by Westminster’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) last month, which warned that the Government had ‘badly underestimated’ the Kremlin.

Mr Kelin accused the UK of throwing ‘a lot of mud… in our direction’, saying of the relationship between London and Moscow: ‘I wouldn’t say this is at zero, but it is close to being frozen.’

In 2018, then prime minister Theresa May expelled 23 Russian diplomats after the nerve agent Novichok was used in an attempt to murder former spy Sergei Skripal. Mr Kelin said he hoped to improve his country’s relationship with Britain following the poisonings in Salisbury, but admitted this was not going ‘smoothly’.

Following the string of allegations levelled at his country, Mr Kelin said: ‘This type of attitude does not provoke much of an appetite for improving dialogue or relations in Moscow. We are patient and we are not in a hurry.’

He did, however, welcome Boris Johnson’s peerage for Russian-born billionaire Evgeny Lebedev, saying: ‘It might be a good thing… even the House of Lords and British parliament need to have a variety of views, alternative opinions.’

The peerage for Mr Lebedev, the owner of the London Evening Standard newspaper and son of a former KGB agent, was announced days after the publication of the ISC report which said Russia had wooed Establishment figures – including members of the House of Lords.

Denials: Diplomat Andrei Kelin ahead of presenting his credentials to the Queen in February this year. He has accused the UK of throwing ‘a lot of mud… in our direction’

Mr Kelin played down the claims, saying: ‘I feel that Britain exaggerates, very much, its place in Russian thinking. The scope and place of Great Britain in Russian politics is not that big. We have other problems of much larger magnitude.’

Mr Kelin also dismissed the ISC’s claims that Russian oligarchs used London as a ‘laundromat’ for dirty money. ‘Oligarchs mean rich people that can influence the president,’ he said. ‘The last one [oligarch] was about 20 years ago… those wealthy people living here [in Britain], the bulk of these people simply escaped Russia because they were being pursued for tax evasion, fraud and other criminal activities.

‘All of them have left the country just to escape prosecution. If British authorities will decide to provide us information about these people or decide to be positive on our demands for extradition, we will only greet this, salute this.’

The ISC’s report was followed by further claims of meddling, with Russia accused of stealing trade documents by breaking into former Cabinet minister Liam Fox’s emails.

Insiders said the hack ‘bore the hallmarks of a state-backed operation’ – but Mr Kelin said: ‘I have no idea about the incident. These accusations are invented, if not to say false. These are senseless accusations which we do not understand.’

A handout photo issued by the Metropolitan Police showing Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov on CCTV on Fisherton Road, Salisbury, in March 2018

Mr Kelin also denied Russia had attempted to steal coronavirus research. He claimed his own countrymen were closer to finding a breakthrough than the British, and hoped to produce a vaccine by October.

Furthermore, Mr Kelin claimed that Russia was itself under siege from cyber attacks – including 500,000 on a single day in June emanating from the UK.

His comments follow the publication of the ISC report, which accused ministers of failing to investigate whether Moscow had meddled in the Brexit referendum. Asked whether his country had indeed done so, Mr Kelin said: ‘No, because politically, we are not interested. For us, there is no sense to choose any side.’

The ambassador also played down reports that Russia had threatened peace in space by launching a missile-like projectile last month – an operation which prompted condemnation from Westminster and Washington.

Asked if Russia needs to mend its ways, Mr Kelin said: ‘We cannot change.’ 

Of a potential thaw in relations with Britain, he said: ‘We do exist on the same continent and sooner or later of course we will have to come back to normalise our relationship. It is unavoidable.’