Russian ambassador: Johnson's fall is just reward for 'belligerent' policy on Ukraine

LONDON, July 7 (Reuters) - Russia's ambassador to Britain said on Thursday that Boris Johnson's fall was a just reward for a "belligerent" anti-Russian policy of support for Ukraine while ignoring the economic needs of the British people.

"He concentrated too much on the geopolitical situation, on Ukraine," Andrei Kelin, Russian ambassador to Britain, told Reuters in an interview in London.

"He left behind very much the country, people, state of the economy, and this is what has brought this outcome," Kelin said in English. "Of course, we would prefer someone who is not so antagonistic or belligerent."

Johnson, the face of the 2016 Brexit campaign who won a resounding electoral victory in 2019 before leading the United Kingdom out of the European Union, announced he was quitting on Thursday after he was abandoned by ministers and most of his Conservative lawmakers over a series of scandals.

"People are suffering from high prices, high taxes," Kelin, 65, said of Johnson's legacy. "Promises by the government have not been fulfilled."

Soaring food prices pushed British consumer price inflation to a 40-year high of 9.1% in May, the highest rate out of the Group of Seven countries and one which underlines the severity of the country's cost-of-living crunch.

Johnson, he said, had changed during his tenure as prime minister: Johnson as foreign minister under Theresa May and Johnson as prime minister were, he said, "two different people."

He said Johnson had backtracked on an initial willingness to work with Russia, saying he blundered into a "strategic mistake" by going so hard in his support for Ukraine.

"I can't say that he was a friend of Russia," Kelin said.

In an interview at his grand 19th Century residence in west London, Kelin said he was not hopeful a change of leadership would have any impact on Britain's policy towards Russia or Ukraine.

He criticised Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss as lacking understanding of the situation in Ukraine.

"They are not very much acquainted with Russian politics and do not really realise the reasons for what is happening," he said.

In a message to whoever does takes over from Johnson, Kelin said: "The leader of the country should concentrate not only on international affairs, but on its own country and its own economy first of all."

Reporting by Jake Cordell; editing by Guy Faulconbridge

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