UK PM to urge Putin to 'step back' from conflict with Ukraine

Britain will reiterate need for Russia to 'engage diplomatically' when leaders speak, while bolstering Kiev's defences

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is said to be determined to accelerate diplomatic efforts with Moscow 'to avoid bloodshed in Europe'.  AP

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin in the coming days and urge him to step back from conflict with Ukraine, UK officials have said.

Mr Johnson “will reiterate the need for Russia to step back and engage diplomatically when he speaks to President Putin this week”, a representative from Mr Johnson's Downing Street office said.

“The prime minister is determined to accelerate diplomatic efforts and ramp up deterrence to avoid bloodshed in Europe.”

Mr Johnson will telephone Mr Putin and visit Eastern Europe in the coming days.

Britain has promised to impose sanctions against Russia if it makes an incursion into Ukraine and has urged European allies to prepare similar steps.

Mr Johnson has also been presented with a range of military options by defence chiefs.

Before his trip to the region, Mr Johnson is considering plans to send more troops and equipment to the east and to bolster Nato's defences.

These additional measures were requested by the prime minister last week, after an intelligence meeting.

The UK Foreign Office is also expected to announce tougher sanctions on Monday, meaning the UK can target Russia’s strategic and financial interests.

Diplomatic tactics for handling the crisis and offsetting “Russian aggression” have been reviewed and the UK leadership is set to embark on a fresh round of trips to meet key players, said officials.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said his UK counterpart Liz Truss has “agreed a date” to visit Moscow within the next two weeks.

Her visit would be the first by a British foreign secretary to Russia since 2017, when Mr Johnson, who held the office at that time, met Mr Lavrov.

Ms Truss is also expected to arrive in Ukraine soon to show solidarity with the authorities there.

The UK foreign secretary has been forthright in speaking out against Russia’s threatened invasion of Ukraine.

She took the unusual step of declassifying intelligence that suggested Mr Putin is plotting to install a pro-Moscow figure as head of the government in Kiev.

Ms Truss told the UK House of Commons earlier this month that Russia has “no justification whatsoever” for its aggression towards Ukraine.

Russia has massed more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine's border and western powers fear an invasion or incursion that changes the situation with the country is imminent.

Mr Putin has said the West has yet to address Moscow's main regional security demands – including barring Ukraine from Nato membership – though he was ready to keep talking.

Britain has supplied defensive weapons and training personnel to Ukraine, though ministers have said that the deployment of UK combat troops is unlikely.

Updated: January 29, 2022, 11:30 AM