UK says new ties possible only if Russia ‘changes behavior’

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Britain said on Thursday that resetting ties with Russia depended on Moscow changing behavior, hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin said it was time to “turn the page” on the difficult relationship.

“We can only have a different relationship if Russia changes its behavior,” a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Theresa May said, noting that the 2018 poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain, blamed on Moscow, was a “despicable act.”

Earlier, Putin said Moscow and London should mend fences after the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Britain.

The 2018 poisoning of the ex-double agent, which the UK has blamed on Russia, led to dozens of tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions and a breakdown in already fragile ties between Moscow and London.

“There’s a need to finally turn this page -- linked to spies and assassination attempts,” Putin told heads of global news agencies at an economic forum in Saint Petersburg.

“Global issues related to national interests in the economic and social spheres and global security are more important than games of security services,” the Russian president said.

Putin added that Skripal was not a “Russian spy.”

“It was not us who spied on you,” Putin said. “It’s your agent, not ours. That means you were spying on us.”

London said a new relationship would only be possible following changes from Moscow.

Putin also expressed hope that bilateral relations could improve under a new prime minister in Britain, suggesting the new leader should think about British companies operating in Russia.

“I would very much want a person who will become head of government (in Britain) to take into account the interests of 600 British companies working in Russia,” Putin said.

Skripal sold secrets to Britain and moved there after a 2010 spy swap.

Last year he and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent in the English city of Salisbury, the first use of chemical weapons in Europe since World War II.

London says the attempted assassination was “almost certainly” approved by the Russian state.

Moscow has angrily denied involvement.

The case has strong echoes of the poisoning of former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko in Britain in 2006.

Britain said Russians Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun were behind what it said was a likely Kremlin-backed killing, but the pair have never been tried and Lugovoi has since become a lawmaker in Russia.

May will step down as Conservative party’s leader on Friday over her failure to take Britain out of the European Union on time, but will stay on as caretaker premier until a successor is chosen.

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