DOWNING Street has hit back at Moscow, criticising Russia’s record on human rights, freedom of speech, the economy and the war in Syria in response to its embassy's claims that Britain was preparing an "official witch-hunt" against the Putin government.
In a continuing tit-for-tat spat, the Russian embassy in London claimed "Western elites" were in "panic and hysterics" over their loss of control in Europe and accused Britain of planning to brief Donald Trump's incoming US administration against Moscow.
It followed a claim by Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, who in the House of Commons told MPs Russia was "up to all sorts of very dirty tricks" such as cyber-warfare.
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When asked about the Russian Government’s claims against the UK, Theresa May’s spokeswoman insisted they did not merit a response but then she gave one, saying: “If you want to look at the record of the UK Government in recent years and make comparisons with the Russians, you might think about: negative economic growth in Russia and the UK being one of the fastest-growing major economies in the world; how many times the UK has consistently advanced and supported UN Security Council resolutions on Syria, Russia was meanwhile vetoing them; the fact that we have freedom of expression and a free press in the UK, who will choose what they report.
"Those are just the realities of the UK Government versus the Russians. You ought to look at what the UK Government's record of actions are and what the Russian record of actions are."
In its lengthy post, the Russian embassy speculated that Theresa May's Government was seeking to rerun the Brexit referendum by claiming it was tainted by Russian influence and attacked the British intelligence services.
The embassy also suggested the UK's loud condemnations of Russian military action in Syria were intended to divert attention from its "complicity in the deliberate obliteration of Yemen".
It claimed Britain had "outsourced" the fight against Islamist extremism to Russia in the same way the defeat of Nazi Germany was "outsourced" to the Soviet Union.
"We don't expect HMG to win this argument in an open and reasoned debate," said the post. "We also think that it is plainly wrong for one UNSC[UN Security Council] permanent member to brief against another."
Elsewhere, a senior Labour source called for a "ratcheting down" of tensions between Russia and the West, particularly on the border between Nato countries and Russia and in the Middle East.
He stressed how Jeremy Corbyn had repeatedly voiced criticisms of the Russian Government over its actions in the Middle East and domestically but added: "What we don't want to see is a ratcheting up of tensions between Russia and the West, as has been taking place. We want to see an engagement with Russia on a critical basis but a serious basis."
The source said Mr Corbyn had "expressed concerns" about the deployment of hundreds of UK troops to Russia's neighbour Estonia, where RAF Typhoon fighter jets have also been involved in the interception of Russian warplanes.
"We've said repeatedly that we want talks and engagement to wind down military tensions, particularly on the Nato/Russian border and in the Middle East. Jeremy has expressed concerns about that being one of the escalations of tensions that have taken place," he added.