Syria bombings: Boris Johnson warns UK must prepare for Russian retaliation
Boris Johnson has warned that the UK must take “every possible precaution” to protect itself from Russian retaliation following the coalition air strikes on Syria.
The Foreign Secretary said Moscow had a track record of launching cyber attacks on infrastructure and interfering in the democratic processes of other countries.
His comments come amid concern that Russia may start a clandestine campaign of retribution, following strikes carried out bu the US, UK and France on targets on of the Moscow-backed Syrian regime.
Mr Johnson also revealed that contact between himself and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov had gone cold amid the military operation, which saw Western coalition partners fire more than 100 missiles at facilities around Damascus.
The Cabinet minister said that the operation was not going to make a material difference to the Syrian civil war and he could not say it would definitely stop the Assad regime from using chemical weapons again, but he argued the strikes had sent a strong message that their use would not be tolerated.
Mr Johnson spoke to BBC’s Andrew Marr show on a morning in which reports suggested British intelligence chiefs feared Russia could retaliate with a “dirty war”, using cyber attacks and even seeking to smear figures in the British political establishment.
Asked about the possibility of “revenge attacks” that could target electrical or NHS systems, he said: ”You have to take every possible precaution, and when you look at what Russia has done, not just in this country, in Salisbury, attacks on TV stations, on the democratic processes, on critical national infrastructure – of course we have to be very, very cautious indeed.
“But I want to stress, we in the UK do not seek an escalation, absolutely not.”
Asked about contact with his Russian opposite number Mr Lavrov, Mr Johnson responded that contact with the Russians had “not been good”, but explained that it had continued at a military level to ensure “deconfliction”, the clashing of coalition and Russian forces, and at the UN.
He said the UK and its allies had limited its action, because it did not seek an escalation in the war or with Russia, but he said: “I went to Moscow in December and we held out the hand of engagement. We want to engage with Russia.
“But I’m afraid the Russians give us every possible signal and evidence that we also have to beware.”