Putin must 'step back' from war and free world will 'stand its ground', says Foreign Sec

20 January 2022, 15:23 | Updated: 20 January 2022, 22:35

Liz Truss will urge Mr Putin to engage in "meaningful discussions" about the situation in Ukraine
Liz Truss will urge Mr Putin to engage in "meaningful discussions" about the situation in Ukraine. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Vladimir Putin must "desist and step back" from war in Ukraine or risk being dragged into a prolonged conflict like the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Liz Truss will warn.

In a message to the Russian president, the Foreign Secretary will reiterate Boris Johnson’s earlier promise and say the UK and its allies "continue to stand with Ukraine".

She will also urge Mr Putin to engage in "meaningful discussions" about the crisis and to not make a "massive strategic mistake".

Ms Truss will make the comments in a speech in Australia on Friday, on a visit with Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.

She will claim the "Kremlin has not learned the lessons of history" and that "invasion will only lead to a terrible quagmire and loss of life, as we know from the Soviet-Afghan war and conflict in Chechnya" – referencing the 1980s Afghanistan war that cost thousands of lives.

Read more: UK Foreign Office in 'crisis mode' as Russian invasion of Ukraine could be days away

Read more: UK sends troops and weapons to Ukraine amid fears of a Russian invasion

She will also say that "global aggressors" are "emboldened in a way we haven't seen since the Cold War".

"They seek to export dictatorship as a service around the world," the Foreign Secretary will say.

"That is why regimes like Belarus, North Korea and Myanmar find their closest allies in Moscow and Beijing."

She will also say threats to "freedom, democracy and the rule of law" are global challenges requiring an international response.

She will add: "It is time for the free world to stand its ground."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer on Thursday met with the Ukrainian Ambassador Vadym Prystaiko.

"I was delighted to meet with Ambassador Prystaiko and show him and the Ukrainian people that Labour is resolute in our support for the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Ukraine," said Sir Keir.

He said Russia’s threats "cannot be justified nor tolerated" and said they were driving a global escalation of tension.

"The people of Ukraine want a democratic future and must be able to choose their own path and determine their own political destiny," he said.

Read more: Russia 'emboldened' by Trump, Brexit and Afghanistan evacuation, says ex-GCHQ boss

"Labour will continue to support international dialogue to achieve de-escalation as well as the UK government’s decision to support Ukraine's ability to defend itself through military aid."

He said it was important the UK show that attempts to "undermine Ukraine’s integrity" would be bet with a "strong, consistent and resolute response", and suggested the Government needed to improve its handling of the situation.

"In a dangerous and volatile landscape, we need strong, serious leadership," he said.

"It is crucial the British government’s focus is on this threat and that we are not distracted by internal infighting or wider diplomatic squabbles."

Boris Johnson said earlier that a Russian invasion would be a “disaster” for Moscow.

The world is watching to see if Vladimir Putin sends in forces to the Eastern European state as some 100,000 troops mass at the border region.

Tense talks between Russia and the US over Nato's eastward expansion and weaponry have been held in a last-ditch bid to avoid the stand-off boiling over to a full-blown war.

Speaking on Thursday, Boris Johnson warned Mr Putin: "Be in no doubt that if Russia were to make any kind of incursion into Ukraine, on any scale whatever, I think that that would be a disaster, not just for Ukraine, but for Russia.

"It'd be a disaster for the world, and the UK stands squarely behind the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine."

Britain has been supplying Ukrainian forces with anti tank missiles. Among the major European powers, Germany has warned Russia off invading but refused to send weaponry.

Read more: UK Foreign Office in 'crisis mode' as Russian invasion of Ukraine could be days away

Read more: UK sends troops and weapons to Ukraine amid fears of a Russian invasion

As Western officials try to anticipate what action Mr Putin will decide on, US intelligence warned of a possible Kremlin plot to sabotage Russian-backed rebels in the east of Ukraine, which Kiev has been fighting for almost a decade.

It was thought the plot would be staged as a "false flag" operation to give Russia a pretext to invade – with about 100,000 troops thought to be assembled near the border.

Another possibility is that Moscow's military could enter Ukrainian territory in what has been described as more of an armed incursion, rather than a full invasion.

But Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky refused to make a distinction on Thursday, tweeting: :We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations.

"Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones. I say this as the President of a great power."

Russia wants guarantees Nato will not expand east to Russia, including by accepting Ukraine as a member, and demanded that weapons are not deployed to ex-Soviet states.

The US has rejected demands but said it is open to talks on arms control.

President Joe Biden warned Russia would pay "dear price" in terms deaths and could get cut off from the global banking system SWIFT should it invade.

Speaking to LBC's Tom Swarbrick on Wednesday, John Bolton, the US former national security adviser, said he wanted the West to up the risks for Mr Putin.

He said Nato forces should deploy units to the region not to fight but to join troops already training Ukrainians, and "put as many into Ukraine as we can so that Russian generals, figuratively looking across the border through their field glasses, see a lot of American flags and wonder what that means".

He added: "You’ve got to increase the potential costs to Putin now not after he's already crossed the border."