Back off from Ukraine, Liz Truss tells Russia

Ukraine invasion fears as Putin faces Covid backlash in Russia

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Ms Truss held “robust” talks with Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and called on his country to avoid conflict. The Foreign Secretary said: “I restated the UK’s support for Ukraine sovereignty. We also discussed Iran and Afghanistan and bilateral issues.” The Kremlin had warned yesterday that the risk of hostilities with Ukraine “remains high”.

But Ms Truss urged Russian leaders to “de-escalate the situation” in her discussions with Mr Lavrov, which were held on the fringe of international talks in Stockholm. Government sources described the meeting as “robust”.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “The Foreign Secretary expressed concern about rising tensions across Europe, and restated the UK’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, urging the Russian government to de-escalate the situation.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President Vladimir Putin spoke recently on the phone.

Ms Truss said she “hoped to continue frank and productive discussions” with Russia on “critical issues to protect peace and stability”.

The spokesman said: “The ministers discussed the importance of Iran resuming nuclear talks and for the international community to take urgent action to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan.”

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky fears Moscow plans to topple his regime after it massed armoured forces at the border.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has based a special operations brigade at Sennelager in Germany to ensure the UK can react to Russian aggression.

Observers think Mr Putin is warning Ukraine not to become part of Nato.

And Britain’s outgoing Army head General Sir Nick Carter has warned there is a risk of an “accidental” war arising from the border build-up.

Russia and Ukraine have been at loggerheads since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 following the ousting of Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s pro-Moscow then-president. More than 14,000 people were killed during fighting in eastern Ukraine between government forces and separatist rebels, supported by Kremlin chiefs.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claims it is Ukraine’s “aggressive and increasingly intensive provocative action” which risks sparking a conflict in the region.

He warned: “The probability of hostilities in Ukraine still remains high.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Mr Lavrov at the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe meeting in the Swedish capital. He said that America had “deep concerns” about Russia’s intentions towards Ukraine.

Mr Blinken continued: “If Russia decides to pursue confrontation, there will be serious consequences. The best way to avert a crisis is diplomacy.”

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