Russian Minister Says Britain Has Been Our ‘Enemy’ Since ‘Ivan the Terrible,’ Insists They’ll Respond to Cyber-Attack Threats

A news report out of Britain about cyber games and modern warfare has launched a discussion in Russia over the diplomatic legacy of Ivan the Terrible.

On Wednesday, Russia's deputy foreign minister Oleg Syromolotov told reporters that Britain has been Russia’s enemy since Ivan the Terrible, whose real name was Ivan IV Vasilyevich, ruled as Tsar of all Rus in the 16th century.

The comments were made in response to a report in Britain's Sunday Times that claimed the United Kingdom was preparing to launch an offensive cyber-attack against Russia that would turn off the lights in Moscow.

“Great Britain has been Russia’s enemy since Ivan the Terrible," he told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency.If they are making such declarations, then they will probably try it out, but we’ll defend ourselves and the response will be quite severe."

Diplomatic relations between the two countries have been especially strained ever since the United Kingdom accused Russia of poisoning former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in the English city of Salisbury in March. Two members of Russia’s military intelligence (GRU) have been identified as the perpetrators of the attack with a deadly Soviet-era nerve agent. Russia has denied its involvement in the attack.

The Sunday Times report claimed that the U.K. was preparing an offensive cyber-attack to avoid the use of nuclear weapons if conflict were to escalate with Russia. Russian media later reported that the United Kingdom had refrained from commenting on the report, which cited anonymous officials.

"As far as we can judge, the British side thus dissociates itself from the irresponsible media publications and their anonymous sources which try to scare the public by scenarios of Russia 'seizing islands off Estonia', and threaten to 'turn off the lights in Moscow', etc," the Russian embassy in London said in a statement.

"Although the presence of aggressive plans has not been denied directly, we assume that the United Kingdom, being a responsible member of the international community and a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, will fulfill its promises to act in accordance with international law, including its fundamental prohibition against use or threat of force."

827232730-594x594 This image shows a view of a monument to Ivan the Terrible at the Alley of Rulers, the sculpture park of bronze statues of Russian rulers in downtown Moscow. Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images

Ivan the Terrible has a mixed legacy that included a crackdown against opponents using a brutal secret police force and the launch of several unsuccessful wars against Poland and Sweden. But he united Russia and created a multi-ethnic empire, and he opened diplomatic relations and trade with England. Indeed, the Russian leader frequently corresponded by letter with England's Queen Elizabeth I.

According to the American Historical Review, the relationship between the two countries began by accident in 1553, less than a decade after Ivan became Tsar. 

"In the autumn of that year an English ship, called the Edwa'rd Bonaventure and directed by the pilot Richard Chancellor, had been forced by contrary winds to seek harbor in the mouth of the river Dvina on the north coast of Russia,” the journal reads. “The sparse inhabitants of this desert country gave shelter to their unexpected guests, and sent to Moscow an account of what had happened, and the czar Ivan the Terrible invited the English to his court.”

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