Boris Johnson has urged European countries to break their addiction to Russian gas, warning that it could cloud their judgement when dealing with Vladimir Putin's government.
In a speech to City of London dignitaries on Monday night, the prime minister said countries like Germany would have to choose between "mainlining ever more Russian hydrocarbons" and "sticking up for" peace and stability in the east.
It comes after the prime minister order the deployment of British military engineers to the Poland-Belarus border as tensions rise in the east over the ensuing refugee crisis.
Formally ditching a once-popular theory, Mr Johnson told his audience at London's Mansion House that it was "clear that some countries are simply not going to evolve towards free market democracies and we should be clear eyed about that".
The prime minister said relations with Russia and other states should be "friendly and pragmatic" but appeared to warn against the construction of a planned new gas pipeline, Nord Stream 2, which is backed by Berlin – a major consumer of natural gas from the east.
Addressing the governments of Germany, Austria, Italy, France, and other European countries that import large amounts of Russian gas, Mr Johnson said:
"We hope that our friends may recognise that a choice is shortly coming between mainlining ever more Russian hydrocarbons in giant new pipelines and sticking up for Ukraine and championing the cause of peace and stability, let me put it that way."
Russia is a major exporter of gas to Western Europe, which it sends via Belarus and sells via state-owned company Gazprom.
Calling for an alliance of like-minded democracies, Mr Johnson added: "When we say that we support the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine that is not because we want to be adversarial to Russia, or that we want in some way strategically to encircle or undermine that great country.
“And never let it be forgotten, in this season of remembrance, that it was Russian blood that enabled us to defeat Nazism. It is because we have a commitment to democracy and freedom that is shared now across the vast mass of the European continent.
“And when our Polish friends asked for our help to deal with a contrived crisis on their border with Belarus, we were quick to respond."
Russian president Mr Putin did not attend the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow this month but spoke to Mr Johnson on the phone ahead of the event.
According to a read-out of the call the prime minister "was clear that the UK’s current relationship with Russia is not the one we want" and said "significant bilateral difficulties remain" between the two countries.
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