UK must 'avoid talks to end Russia’s invasion of Ukraine'

Negotiations should be conducted between the two conflicting parties, former foreign secretary says

Russian President Vladimir Putin.  Sputnik / AP
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A British former foreign secretary said on Thursday that the UK should stay out of negotiations to halt Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak should not talk to Russian President Vladimir Putin and any peace talks should be conducted by the two warring countries, Lord David Owen said.

But Lord Owen said there could be a role for US President Joe Biden as he is the negotiator who “really matters”.

The western allies have rejected a peace plan put forward by Beijing as China’s President Xi Jinping met Mr Putin in Moscow this week.

“Ukraine has had very substantive trade arrangements with China in their own right and a very large amount of Ukrainian grain was going to China," said Lord Owen, the former leader of the Social Democratic Party.

“So there has been this formed relationship with communist China and Ukraine over quite a long period of time. So, I think he’s going to try to bring this war to an end.”

On the prospect of peace talks to end Russia’s invasion, Lord Owen said: “I believe there should be no negotiation by Britain.

“If I was asked, I would say that the Prime Minister should not talk to Putin, and nor should the Foreign Secretary [James Cleverly] talk to Sergey Lavrov.

“And I think that we should say that the matter of negotiations should be conducted between the two who are conducting war against each other. We are not at war with Russia.”

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But he said “there has to be a difference for some people”.

“If Biden decided that the time had come to speak to Putin, then he should go, as he is the de facto political negotiator that really matters.

“But I would be reluctant if I was Biden to do that, because you would be sucked in. It’s a very, very narrow line.”

Asked if there is something more western allies could do to help Ukraine, Lord Owen said he “would not have ruled out sending Typhoons [fighter jets]” and that the delivery of tanks should be accelerated.

He said it was “unacceptable” for German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to say he is sending tanks to Ukraine and then “not doing it, delaying it”.

“That is very dangerous. I mean, by any standard, there should be 30 or 40 Leopard tanks now, already there," Lord Owen said.

He was foreign secretary from 1977 to 1979 under James Callaghan and two years later became one of the “Gang of Four” who left the Labour Party to form the SDP.

Appointed as a life peer in 1992, Lord Owen sat in the House of Lords as a crossbencher until March 2014, and now sits as an “independent social democrat”.

Updated: March 24, 2023, 12:01 AM

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