Vladimir Putin has taunted the UK over the Tory leadership race as he suggested Russia is more of a democracy than Britain.
The Russian President met with Theresa May at a G20 summit in Osaka, Japan but he had soured the meeting before it started after he poked fun at the battle to succeed the prime minister and attacked Western liberalism.
Mr Putin mocked Britain for having a system in which a new prime minister can be installed without being elected by the nation, in reference to the Conservative Party’s leadership rules.
Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson are locked in a battle to take over from Mrs May in July after Tory MPs chose them as the final two candidates.
It is now up to Conservative Party members to vote and decide which man should move into Number 10.
Mr Putin told the Financial Times in a rare interview: ‘We are a democratic country.’
The Russian President then is reported to have laughed before taking aim at British democracy.
‘In your country, one leader has left, and the second leader, who is for all intents and purposes the top figure in the state, is not elected by a direct vote of the people, but by the ruling party,’ he said.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, poked fun at the British democratic system as he took aim at the Tory leadership contest
Boris Johnson, pictured today at a hustings event in Exeter, remains the prohibitive favourite to be the next prime minister
Human rights groups have repeatedly expressed concerns about the curtailment of freedoms in Russia while question marks have been raised over the validity of election results in the country.
Mr Putin’s comments came ahead of a meeting with Mrs May this morning which saw the two leaders greet each other with a frosty handshake.
The Prime Minister demanded answers over the Salisbury spy attack and told Mr Putin to hand over the suspects.
Mrs May told him the use of the Novichok nerve agent in the Wiltshire city last year was a ‘truly despicable act’.
She said the UK had ‘irrefutable’ evidence that Russia was behind the attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March 2018.
Both survived the poisoning in Salisbury, but in July 2018 Dawn Sturgess died after coming into contact with Novichok which is believed to have been in a perfume bottle.
‘She told the president that there cannot be a normalisation of our bilateral relationship until Russia stops the irresponsible and destabilising activity that threatens the UK and its allies – including hostile interventions in other countries, disinformation and cyber attacks – which undermine Russia’s standing in the world,’ a Downing Street spokesman said.
‘The Prime Minister said that the use of a deadly nerve agent on the streets of Salisbury formed part of a wider pattern of unacceptable behaviour and was a truly despicable act that led to the death of a British citizen, Dawn Sturgess.’
The UK authorities have named two Russians from the GRU military intelligence agency – known by the aliases Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov – as suspects.
Online investigation group Bellingcat said Boshirov is actually the highly decorated Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga, and Petrov is a military doctor called Alexander Mishkin.
Mrs May told Mr Putin such behaviour as that seen in Salisbury ‘could never be repeated and that the UK wants to see the two individuals responsible brought to justice’.
Theresa May and Vladimir Putin had the frostiest of meetings at the G20 today as she demanded answers over the Salisbury attack
Russia has always denied any wrongdoing over the incident with the Russian President having dismissed it as a ‘fuss about spies and counter-spies’ that was ‘not worth serious interstate relations’ and said ‘traitors must be punished’.
The UK expelled 23 Russian diplomats Mrs May claimed were undeclared intelligence officers following the Salisbury attack and international allies including the US followed suit.
But Mr Putin said in the interview with the FT: ‘Listen, all this fuss about spies and counterspies, it is not worth serious interstate relations. This spy story, as we say, it is not worth five kopecks. Or even five pounds, for that matter.
‘And the issues concerning interstate relations, they are measured in billions and the fate of millions of people. How can we compare one with the other?’
Mr Putin added: ‘Treason is the gravest crime possible and traitors must be punished. I am not saying that the Salisbury incident is the way to do it. Not at all. But traitors must be punished.’
The Prime Minister used the meeting with Mr Putin to say the UK remained ‘open to a different relationship’ with the Kremlin but for that to happen ‘the Russian government must choose a different path’.
Mr Hunt said he was concerned Russia was ‘up to their old tricks’ as he was asked during a hustings event today what he would have said to Mr Putin at the G20.
He said: ‘It’s possible to rebuild relations if Russia changes its behaviour, but last year Russia used chemical weapons on British soil in Salisbury leading to the death of a British citizen and my worry about Russia is that they are up to their old tricks.’
Jeremy Hunt, pictured today in Exeter, said he believed Russia was ‘up to their old tricks’
Mr Johnson also weighed in as he praised the UK’s ability to unite the world against Moscow following the Salisbury incident.
He said: ‘One of the saddest things I discovered in the Foreign Office is every British prime minister, every foreign secretary comes into office, I think in the last 10 years or so, thinking they can have a reset, thinking they can have a normalisation.
‘They try and they try and Russia always lets you down, it’s so sad.’
Mrs May has been a vocal critic of Russia since she became PM in July 2016.
She used a major speech in November 2017 to claim ‘it is Russia’s actions which threaten the international order on which we all depend’.
She said: ‘We know what you are doing and you will not succeed because you underestimate the resilience of our democracies, the enduring attraction of free and open societies, and the commitment of Western nations to the alliances that bind us.’