Russia’s “irresponsible and destabilising activity” must stop before normal diplomatic relations can resume, Theresa May has told Vladimir Putin in a frosty face-to-face encounter.
The meeting between the two leaders was dominated by exchanges about the Salisbury nerve agent poisoning, cyber attacks and meddling in foreign elections.
Mrs May was stony-faced as she shook hands with the Russian president before talks in which she told him the use of the novichok nerve agent in the Wiltshire city was a “truly despicable act”.
She said the UK had “irrefutable” evidence that Russia was behind the attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March 2018.
Both survived the poisoning in Salisbury, but in July 2018 Dawn Sturgess died after coming into contact with novichok which is believed to have been in a perfume bottle.
“She told the president that there cannot be a normalisation of our bilateral relationship until Russia stops the irresponsible and destabilising activity that threatens the UK and its allies – including hostile interventions in other countries, disinformation and cyber attacks – which undermine Russia’s standing in the world,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
“The Prime Minister said that the use of a deadly nerve agent on the streets of Salisbury formed part of a wider pattern of unacceptable behaviour and was a truly despicable act that led to the death of a British citizen, Dawn Sturgess.”
British security officials have named two Russians from the GRU military intelligence agency – known by the aliases Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov – as suspects.
Online investigation group Bellingcat said Boshirov is actually the highly decorated Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga, and Petrov is a military doctor called Alexander Mishkin.
Downing Street said Mrs May was “clear that the UK has irrefutable evidence that Russia was behind the attack – based on painstaking investigations and co-operation with our allies.
“She said that this behaviour could never be repeated and that the UK wants to see the two individuals responsible brought to justice.”
The Russian president has dismissed the Salisbury incident as a “fuss about spies and counter-spies” that was “not worth serious interstate relations” and said “traitors must be punished”.
In the same interview with the Financial Times, he also said liberalism had “become obsolete”.
But Downing Street said Mrs May told him “the UK would continue to unequivocally defend liberal democracy and protect the human rights and equality of all groups, including LGBT people”.
The Prime Minister used the meeting at the G20 summit in Japan to say the UK remained “open to a different relationship” with the Kremlin but for that to happen “the Russian government must choose a different path”.
She also used the meeting to raise Russia’s actions in Syria and Ukraine.