Moscow to face ‘swift, severe and united response’ if it invades Ukraine, US says

US secretary of state has ‘frank and useful’ talks with Russian foreign minister

British foreign secretary Liz Truss, speaking at a foreign affairs think tank in Australia, has warned Russian president Vladimir Putin that a military incursion into Ukraine would be "a massive strategic mistake." Video: Reuters

 

US secretary of state Antony Blinken said after talks with Russia’s foreign minister on Friday that Moscow would face a “swift, severe and a united response” if it invades Ukraine.

Mr Blinken said after the talks in Geneva that Washington had agreed to provide written comments to Russia after Moscow demanded security guarantees, including a pledge that Ukraine will never be able to join Nato.

He described Friday’s talks with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, intended to reduce tensions that have risen since Russia massed troops near Ukraine’s border, as frank and useful.

“We’ve been clear – if any Russian military forces move across Ukraine’s border, that’s a renewed invasion. It will be met with swift, severe and a united response from the United States and our partners and allies,” Mr Blinken told a news conference in Geneva.

Western states fear Moscow is planning a new assault on Ukraine after sending in forces into the former Soviet republic 2014 to annex the Crimea peninsula. Russia denies planning an attack but says it could take unspecified military action if its security demands are not met.

Mr Blinken said Washington had sought during Friday’s talks to determine whether Moscow was prepared to take a diplomatic path to defuse tensions over Ukraine. Both sides agreed it was important for the diplomatic process to continue, he said.

Mr Lavrov said after meeting Mr Blinken that he hoped that emotions would cool down over Ukraine and repeated Russian assertions that it poses no threat to its neighbour.

UK warning

The talks came shortly after UK foreign secretary Liz Truss warned Russia that any invasion of Ukraine would only lead to “a terrible quagmire and loss of life” on the scale of the Soviet-Afghan war.

Ukraine_map Ukraine_graphic

Speaking at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Australia, Ms Truss framed the Ukraine conflict as part of a wider dispute between what she saw as liberal states and autocracies, including Russia and China.

She urged Vladimir Putin to “desist and step back from Ukraine before he makes a massive strategic mistake”.

The Kremlin, she said, “has not learned the lessons of history” and an “invasion will only lead to a terrible quagmire and loss of life, as we know from the Soviet-Afghan war and conflict in Chechnya”.

She added: “We need everyone to step up. Together with our allies, we will continue to stand with Ukraine and urge Russia to de-escalate and engage in meaningful discussions. What happens in eastern Europe matters for the world.”

Ms Truss claimed autocracies were “emboldened in a way we haven’t seen since the cold war.

“They seek to export dictatorship as a service around the world. That is why regimes like Belarus, North Korea and Myanmar find their closest allies in Moscow and Beijing.”

Ms Truss, along with the UK defence secretary, Ben Wallace, is in Australia to discuss the next stage of the Aukus partnership, including plans for Australia to be given access to US nuclear-powered submarine technology.

Aukus, which brings together Australia, the US and the UK, is designed to be a wider defence partnership, but its launch in September offended the French by cancelling its longstanding contract to build diesel-powered submarines.

‘Travesty’

This week David Hannay, the former UK ambassador to the United Nations, described the launch of Aukus and the offence taken in Paris as “a travesty of diplomacy”.

“In future years I suspect this episode will be taught at diplomatic academies across the world as how quite unnecessarily to lose both friends and influence.”

The September agreement has left so much unspecified that there are doubts Australia will ever access the submarine technology. The deal did not set out whether the UK or the US would provide nuclear technology for the submarines, how much they would cost, when they would be completed or what proportion of the submarines would be built in Australia as opposed to the US or the UK.

On her visit, Ms Truss has also found herself mired in a controversy over a proposed UK increase in alcohol taxes that Australian wine-makers say will wipe out the benefit of the recent UK-Australian free trade deal.

“UK tax is a matter for the UK and it is non-discriminatory. It is based on decisions that we have to make about our own system,” she said. – Guardian, Reuters