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Russia hopes new foreign secretary Johnson can mend relations

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia hopes new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson can improve dismal relations between Moscow and London, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday, while the Kremlin said it thought his role would force him to moderate his rhetoric.

Relations between the two countries are at their lowest point since the Cold War after a British inquiry concluded it was probable senior Kremlin officials had ordered the 2006 killing of Kremlin foe Alexander Litvinenko in London.

Britain has been one of the most vocal supporters of punitive European Union sanctions imposed on Russia over its role in the Ukraine crisis and of NATO beefing up its military presence in the Baltic States and Poland to deter Russia.

Johnson, whose outspoken comments have sometimes caused offence, has harshly criticised Russian President Vladimir Putin in the past, calling him a “ruthless and manipulative tyrant.” He has also disparagingly likened him to a character in the Harry Potter films - Dobby the House Elf.

But he has also called on the West to put aside its distaste for Putin and to cut a deal with him to destroy Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, something the Kremlin itself is keen to see happen.

“Certainly, we have long been waiting to turn over what is not the best page in the book of Russian-British relations,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a news briefing.

“Therefore, if under the new head of the Foreign Office the British side has the appropriate desire and intention in this regard, we will certainly support this.”

She said Russia would not however miss Philip Hammond, Johnson’s predecessor as foreign secretary, who often robustly criticised Russian foreign policy.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, sounded a conciliatory note about Johnson too.

“Every new start gives a certain hope,” Peskov told a conference call with reporters.

“In his previous role, he (Johnson) had no impact whatsoever on shaping Britain’s foreign policy. (But) the burden of his current job will most likely force him to adopt a somewhat different rhetoric of a more diplomatic character.”

Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov and Polina Devitt; Editing by Andrew Osborn