UK warns Russia against ‘strategic mistake’ over Ukraine

Caution from London comes as Putin calls for an ‘immediate response’ from Kyiv’s Western allies over security demands.

Two soldiers sit near a Ukrainian flag
The Kremlin has denied it plans to invade neighbouring Ukraine [Press Service of the 92nd Separate Mechanized Brigade/Handout via Reuters]

The United Kingdom’s foreign secretary has warned Moscow that any Russian incursion into neighbouring Ukraine would be a costly mistake as tensions continue to rise following a recent troop build-up near the border.

“Any Russian incursion would be a massive strategic mistake and would be met with strength, including coordinated sanctions with our allies to impose a severe cost on Russia’s interests and economy,” Liz Truss said in a statement on Thursday.

She added the “only way out of the current situation” for Russia was through dialogue and welcomed indications from Moscow that it is willing to hold talks with the United States early next year in Geneva.

The Kremlin has denied suggestions made by Kyiv and its Western allies, which include the US and the UK, that it plans to invade Ukraine after mobilising tens of thousands of troops near the shared border, marking the second such mass military deployment this year.

Instead, it says the security situation in the region has been undermined by the expansion of the US-headed NATO transatlantic security alliance and Ukraine’s growing ties with the body – developments that Moscow claims threaten Russia and contravene assurances given to it as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Moscow makes security demands

Last week, Moscow presented the West with sweeping security demands, calling on NATO to deny membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet countries, as well as roll back military deployments in Central and Eastern Europe.

Many of Russia’s proposals, which would require the withdrawal of US and allied forces from central and eastern European countries that joined NATO after 1997, are seen as non-starters in the West.

But Washington and NATO have said they will discuss the package with Russia early next year, aware that outright rejection could further inflame the crisis over Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Moscow did “not want” war with its neighbour, but needs an “immediate” response from the US and its allies to its demands for security guarantees.

“This is not our choice, we do not want this,” he told reporters at his annual marathon news conference when asked about the possibility of conflict.

Putin said Russia had received a generally positive initial response to the proposals it handed to the US and that he was hopeful about the prospect for negotiations.

NATO ‘tricked’ Russia, says Putin

But in separate remarks, Putin grew more heated when recalling how NATO had “brazenly tricked” Russia with successive waves of expansion since the Cold War, and said Moscow needed an answer to its demands urgently.

“We just directly posed the question that there should be no further NATO movement to the east. The ball is in their court, they should answer us with something,” he said.

The US, European Union and Group of Seven (G7) nations have all warned Putin he will face “massive consequences” including tough economic sanctions in the event of any new Russian aggression over Ukraine.

Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and shortly after supported a separatist rebellion in the country’s east, plunging relations between Moscow and the West to post-Cold War lows.

The fighting in Ukraine’s industrial heartland, known as the Donbas, has killed more than 14,000 people to date, according to Kyiv.

Putin accused Ukraine’s government on Thursday of breaking its commitments under a 2015 deal meant to halt the conflict and refusing to talk to representatives of two breakaway regions there. He said his Ukranian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, had been influenced by “radical nationalist forces”.

Zelenskyy, for his part, has said he is ready to talk with Russia “in any format”. The Kremlin has so far rejected any such discussions and repeatedly said it sees no point in any meeting without clarity on what the agenda would be.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies