UK's Liz Truss: ‘Russians didn’t like what I had to say’

Foreign secretary says she had a 'clear message' to deliver to the Kremlin

Britain's Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. AFP
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UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss defended her decision to hold talks in Moscow with foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, insisting she had to deliver a clear message to Russia.

The talks between the Ms Truss and Mr Lavrov last week were tense and ended in an awkward press conference in which the Russian minister appeared to question her understanding of the crisis.

“Of course, the Russians didn’t like what I had to say but I had to deliver a message to Vladimir Putin’s government," she said on Monday.

“I went to Russia to deliver a very clear message, which is that it’s Russia who is the aggressor.

"They have 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border and if they stage an incursion into Ukraine, that would have a damaging effect on the Russian people and the Russian government.

“Of course, the Russians didn’t like what I had to say but I say it nevertheless. And I want them to desist and I want them to be aware that there will be severe costs of an invasion.”

Mr Lavrov described the meeting as a “conversation between deaf and dumb”, claiming Ms Truss did not listen to Russia’s position and the UK was unprepared for the talks.

Breakthrough during talks never expected

Downing Street insisted that a breakthrough had not been expected at the talks and “no one was under any illusions about what can be achieved in a single meeting”.

“It’s an important opportunity to present our understanding of the situation and to hear directly from the Russians on their position as well," UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said.

“We will continue always to explore all opportunities to take a diplomatic path and we stand ready to have further discussions with our Russian counterparts at all levels in the interest of de-escalating this crisis.

“I think no one was under any illusions about what can be achieved in a single meeting.

“But it’s crucial that we take all these opportunities and continue to put forward this message about how further aggression will be responded to, so Russia can be in no doubt about our position and the position of our Nato allies.”

Truss warns of imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine

Earlier on Monday, Ms Truss said that Russian President Vladimir Putin could launch an invasion of Ukraine “almost immediately".

Mr Johnson warned on Monday that an invasion could take place within 48 hours as he urged Mr Putin to step back from the “edge of a precipice”.

Ms Truss, who chaired a meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency committee, urged Britons to leave Ukraine by commercial routes while they still could because of the risk of an “imminent Russian invasion”.

Russia has accused the UK and US of a propaganda campaign and insisted it was ready to continue talks.

Mr Johnson was receiving a briefing on the latest intelligence from the UK’s spy chiefs and cut short a planned visit to northern England to lead the Cobra meeting on Tuesday.

“This is a very, very dangerous, difficult situation," Mr Johnson said on a visit to Rosyth shipyards in Scotland. "We are on the edge of a precipice but there is still time for President Putin to step back.”

He called for more dialogue and urged Russia to avoid a “disastrous” invasion.

Reports based on US intelligence assessments have suggested an invasion could be launched as soon as Wednesday.

“The signs, as you’ve heard from President Biden, are that they’re at least planning for something that could take place as early as in the next 48 hours," Mr Johnson said.

“That is extremely concerning.”

Johnson calls for end to reliance on Russian gas

In a message to European allies, Mr Johnson said the world needed to show the political and economic cost an invasion would have on Russia, including by ending reliance on its gas.

He said “the world needs to learn the lesson of 2014” when not enough was done to move away from Russian gas and oil after Moscow's action in eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea.

“What I think all European countries need to do now is get Nord Stream out of the bloodstream,” he said.

“Yank out that hypodermic drip feed of Russian hydrocarbons that is keeping so many European economies going.”

The Nord Stream pipeline and Nord Stream 2 – which is yet to begin operations – supply gas directly from Russia to Germany.

The pipelines are a source of tension among western allies drawing up sanctions against Russia, with Mr Biden insisting Nord Stream 2 would be blocked if Mr Putin invaded Ukraine.

Germany has so far been reluctant to spell out exactly what measures it would take.

Ms Truss insisted Germany and the US had been “very clear” that “Nord Stream 2 would not go ahead in the event of a Russian incursion on Ukraine”.

Updated: February 14, 2022, 9:32 PM