Britain has urged its allies to reduce their economic dependence on Russia and show solidarity with Ukraine in the face of growing aggression from its neighbour.
Liz Truss, Britain’s foreign secretary, made the clarion call during a visit to Australia as tensions between the West and Moscow escalate.
Ahead of crisis talks between the United States and Russia on Friday – widely seen as one of the last chances to avert a Russian invasion of Ukraine – Ms Truss gave a speech at the Lowy Institute in Sydney.
She warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that he must “restrain and step back” from the war in Ukraine or risk being drawn into a protracted conflict.
“The invasion will only lead to a terrible quagmire and loss of life, as we know from the Soviet-Afghan war and the conflict in Chechnya,” she said, referring to past conflicts of Moscow that cost hundreds of thousands of lives.
Ms Truss urged allies to “step up” in the face of the crisis, linking the Ukrainian conflict to a host of increasingly emboldened authoritarian regimes seeking to “export dictatorship”.
“The Ukrainians will fight this, it could be a quagmire,” she said. “Ukraine is a proud country with a long history. They have seen invading forces before, from the Mongols to the Tartars…their resilience runs deep. If they must, Ukrainians will fight to defend their country. “
When the executive director of the Australian think tank, Michael Fullilove, asked her why she was convinced that the “free world would stand firm” against Russia, she replied: “I think it is very important to note the commitments that Russia took in the Budapest agreement of 1994 in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons.
“Russia has agreed, alongside the UK and the US, to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” she added. “So Vladimir Putin’s claims are completely false about what happened, but it’s true and I made this point in my speech, that the free world hasn’t been doing enough since the end of the Cold War, to make sure we deter aggressors.
She said any invasion of Ukraine would come at a “huge cost” for Russia and that the UK is “ready to put in place very tough sanctions” and build up Ukraine’s defense capabilities.
“But the free world must also work together to reduce economic dependence on Russia in order to put in place the agreements that help countries have alternatives in terms of trade and investment,” he said. -she adds. “So in the future, it will become more difficult for these aggressive regimes to use economic dependency as a way to get what they want.
“So yes, we are fully ready to act immediately.”
She cited the CPTPP (the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) as an example of how the West uses agreements “to protect itself from aggressors – from a position of economic and defensive strength.”
Ms Truss’ comments came as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepares for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva.
The talks between Mr. Blinken and Mr. Lavrov come just 11 days after their deputies met in Geneva and agreed to preserve dialogue amid Russia’s buildup of tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border.
Unlike the January 10 session, which lasted almost eight hours, the two men are expected to have a concise exchange to determine whether diplomacy is still possible.
They will meet at the luxury lakeside President Wilson Hotel, named after the American leader whose decisions included intervening against the Bolshevik Revolution.
“These are difficult issues we face, and resolving them will not happen quickly. I don’t expect us to solve them in Geneva,” Blinken said in Geneva.
“But we can advance our mutual understanding,” Mr Blinken said, and if Russia defuses on the ground, “it can distract us from this crisis in the weeks to come.”
US President Joe Biden bluntly assessed on Wednesday that his counterpart Vladimir Putin is likely to “move in” to Ukraine and warned of a “disaster for Russia”.
Mr Biden said he believed Mr Putin did not want a full-scale war and warned the Russian leader would pay a “heavy price” if he launched a military incursion.
Russia, which is already fueling a deadly insurgency in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014, has demanded guarantees that NATO will never accept the former Soviet republic as a member or s will ever expand elsewhere in the former Moscow sphere.
The United States said the idea was not feasible and accused Russia of undermining Europe’s post-Cold War order by bullying another country into submission.
Mr Blinken traveled to Geneva after a solidarity trip to Kyiv and spoke with Britain, France and Germany in Berlin, the city that symbolized Europe’s transformation from curtain divisions of iron.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson discussed the situation on the Ukrainian border and agreed that further Russian military aggression against Ukraine should be avoided, a German government official said on Friday.
In a phone call on Thursday, Mr. Scholz and Mr. Johnson also agreed that it must be clear that Russia would face significant costs in the event of further aggression.
In her speech, Ms Truss also urged Mr Putin to engage in “meaningful discussions” on the crisis following the build-up of Russian forces near the border with Ukraine.
The foreign minister said that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine shows that “the Kremlin has not learned the lessons of history” and that “the invasion will only lead to a terrible quagmire and to the loss of life, as we know from the Soviet-Afghan war and conflict in Chechnya.”
The Soviet war in Afghanistan escalated throughout the 1980s, costing thousands of lives.
Foreign Secretary and Defense Secretary Ben Wallace used their visit to Australia to strengthen Britain’s defense and diplomatic relations with Australia.
Ms Truss stressed the need for allies such as the UK and Australia to work together to counter the challenge posed by Russia and China on the world stage.
She takes aim at “global aggressors” who are “emboldened in a way we haven’t seen since the Cold War”.
“That’s why regimes like Belarus, North Korea and Myanmar find their closest allies in Moscow and Beijing,” she added.
Ms Truss said threats to “freedom, democracy and the rule of law” are global challenges, not regional problems, and therefore require an international response from the “free world”.
“We need to work with partners like Australia, Israel, India, Japan, Indonesia and many more,” she added.
“Building closer ties with our friends and bringing other countries closer to the orbit of free-market democracies will ultimately make us all safer and freer in the years to come.
“It’s time for the free world to hold firm.”
Updated: January 21, 2022, 9:41 a.m.