Britain and US warn Putin to ‘step back’ from war in Ukraine

Liz Truss says ‘Kremlin has not learned the lessons of history’

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Thursday 20 January 2022 23:00
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Biden says Putin will pay ‘dear price’ if he invades Ukraine

Britain and the United States have warned Vladimir Putin to “desist and step back” from war in Ukraine or risk being dragged into a prolonged conflict.

In a message to the Russian president, foreign secretary Liz Truss says Russia could be dragged into a quagmire similar to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Her comments came amid a buildup of Russian forces near the border with Ukraine, which prompted President Joe Biden to warn Putin would pay a “dear price” for any invasion.

Mr Biden on Thursday said he had been “absolutely clear” with Mr Putin that moving troops across Ukraine’s border would constitute an invasion, while Boris Johnson said that an incursion would “be a disaster for not just for Russia, it would be a disaster for the world”.

The prime minister added that “the UK stands squarely behind the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine”.

Russia announced on Thursday that 140 of its warships and support vessels, 60 planes, 1,000 units of military hardware and around 10,000 servicemen would take place in a sweeping set of exercises this month.

The country’s military moves are being closely scrutinised by the west in light of a troop buildup near Ukraine which has unsettled the Nato allies and sparked fears of a looming war. Mr Putin’s government strongly denies that it has any plans to invade Ukraine.

In a speech in Australia on Friday, Ms Truss will say the “Kremlin has not learned the lessons of history” and that an “invasion will only lead to a terrible quagmire and loss of life, as we know from the Soviet-Afghan war and conflict in Chechnya”.

She will use the speech, at a think tank in Sydney, to call on countries to side with the west against “global aggressors”, who she said were “emboldened in a way we haven’t seen since the Cold War”.

“They seek to export dictatorship as a service around the world,” she is expected to say. “That is why regimes like Belarus, North Korea and Myanmar find their closest allies in Moscow and Beijing.

“We need to work with partners like Australia, Israel, India, Japan, Indonesia and more. By building closer ties with our friends and drawing other countries closer to the orbit of free-market democracies, will ultimately make us all safer and freer in the years to come.”

But the UK may struggle to convince other countries it has a place at the helm of global leadership, having shredded its foreign policy reputation in many capitals during the course of Brexit talks.

Just a day earlier Maros Sefcovic, the vice president of the European Commission had told MEPs in the European Parliament: “The United Kingdom are our neighbours, our allies, and I think all of us in this house would like to see them again as our strategic partners.

“For that to happen, we need to rebuild the trust, and trust is built by respecting our agreements – the agreements which were recently signed and ratified – be it on withdrawal, be it on trade and cooperation, or be it the proper implementation of the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.”

Mr Sefcovic said the EU would show “flexibility”, adding: “But we need a good partner on the other side.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer said ahead of Ms Truss’s speech that Russia’s “actions and threats cannot be justified nor tolerated and are driving a dangerous escalation of tension in the region and wider world”.

After meeting with the Ukrainian ambassador Vadym Prystaiko Sir Keir said Labour would “continue to press the UK government to step up efforts with European and NATO allies to develop a united approach which uses the full spectrum of our capabilities to deter the Russian government’s ambitions”.

“We must show that any attempts to undermine Ukraine’s integrity will be met with a strong, consistent and resolute response.”

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