Defense secretary prepares for trip to Moscow to ease tensions on Ukrainian border

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The Defense Secretary will travel to Moscow today (Friday) to meet with his Russian counterpart in an attempt to calm the crisis on the Ukrainian border.

The trip will follow the Prime Minister’s visits to Brussels and Warsaw yesterday, where he insisted Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, must not be allowed to ‘bully’ Eastern Europe as he warned that the continent was facing its biggest security crisis in decades.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Liz Truss has been embroiled in tense exchanges with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, with no sign of a diplomatic breakthrough following their meeting in Moscow.

It comes as the government confirmed that preparations to allow the UK to “toughen and extend” its sanctions against Russia have come into force.

The UK could now impose sanctions on Russian companies and individuals in a range of important sectors, such as chemicals, defence, mining, ICT and financial services.

The Times reported that Ben Wallace will make it clear to Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, that invading Ukraine would be a “lose-lose” situation.

The UK has put 1,000 troops on standby for a humanitarian crisis in the east if the current buildup of the Russian military leads to war.

He also promised further aid to NATO allies, with 350 Royal Marines arriving in Poland to coincide with the Prime Minister’s visit on Thursday.

Russia has insisted it has no plans to invade Ukraine, but the NATO alliance is alarmed by the buildup of more than 100,000 troops on the borders with its neighbour.

During his overseas engagements, Boris Johnson indicated that additional military support could be offered to Ukraine if Russia invaded.

But he made it clear that Britain could not intervene militarily if Ukraine was attacked.

In a clip pooled for broadcasters from a military base in Warsaw, he said: ‘The UK provided defensive weapons in the form of anti-tank missiles, we trained Ukrainian troops. That’s all we can do for now.

“Ukraine is not part of NATO. What we are defending is the right of Ukraine, like any other sovereign independent country, to aspire to it.

At an earlier press conference, speaking alongside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, the prime minister called on Russia to engage in meaningful talks because it was worth ” much better to start a discussion now than to have a catastrophe”.

The UK has already supplied 2,000 anti-tank missiles, body armor, helmets and combat boots to Ukraine and Mr Johnson has indicated he could go further.

When asked if he could authorize military support for an insurgency in Ukraine in the event of an invasion, he replied: “We will look at what more we can possibly offer.

“The Ukrainians are well prepared, there are things we have offered that they actually don’t seem to need because they think they already have enough of them.

“It’s possible, I don’t want to rule that out, but at the moment we think the package is the right one.

“But I want to stress that it would be an absolute disaster if this were to happen and there were to be serious bloodshed on Ukrainian soil.”

In Moscow, Ms. Truss had a difficult meeting with Mr. Lavrov.

He called the meeting a ‘deaf and dumb conversation’, but Ms Truss said: ‘I was not mute in our previous discussions, I presented the UK view of the current situation and the fact that in addition to seeking to deter Russia from invading Ukraine, we are also very determined to pursue the diplomatic route.

She added: “There is still time for Russia to end its aggression against Ukraine and continue on the path of diplomacy.

“But NATO is very clear that if this path is not chosen, there will be serious consequences for Russia, Ukraine and the whole of Europe.”

Ms Truss called on Russia to withdraw its troops from the border to ease tensions.

“There is no doubt that the stationing of more than 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border is directly set up to threaten Ukraine,” she said.

There had also been “cyberattacks and other attempts to undermine the activities of a sovereign nation”.

Ms Truss said: ‘If Russia is serious about diplomacy, it needs to move those troops and drop the threats.

The visit to Moscow was the first by a foreign minister in four years, with relations between the UK and Russia severely strained by incidents including the 2018 Salisbury nerve agent attack.

In a sign of the frosty atmosphere of the talks, Mr Lavrov said “ideological approaches, ultimatums and moralizing lead nowhere” and accused Ms Truss of being ill-prepared for the negotiations.

Rejecting Ms. Truss’ call for the withdrawal of forces, Mr. Lavrov said: “The demands for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Russian territory cause regret. We don’t want to threaten anyone. It is we who are threatened.

But he said force levels would plummet once the military drills were over, in which case “the West will likely claim it forced Russia to de-escalate”.

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