THE UK defence secretary has invited his Russian counterpart to London for talks over the ongoing situation in Ukraine.
There have been growing concerns over Russia’s military build-up in Ukraine amid fears of an invasion, with Britain now providing the latter with ‘self-defence’ weapons and training.
The UK has insisted that the weapons provided are strictly for Ukraine to protect its borders and ‘pose no threat to Russia’, but also said that any ‘invasion’ of Ukraine would be seen as an ‘occupation’.
UK Defence secretary, Ben Wallace said: “In light of the increasingly threatening behaviour from Russia and in addition to our current support, the UK is providing a new security assistance package to increase Ukraine’s defensive capabilities.
“Ukraine has every right to defend its borders and this new package of aid further enhances its ability to do so. Let me be clear: this support is for short-range and clearly defensive weapon capabilities; they are not strategic weapons and pose no threat to Russia; they are to use in self-defence.”
“The Prime Minister has been clear: any destabilising action by Russia in Ukraine would be a strategic mistake, it’d have significant consequences – that is why there is a package of international sanctions ready to go that will make sure that the Russian government is punished if it crosses the line.”
He added: “I fear it could lead to a huge loss of life on all sides.”
Despite the defence secretary’s fears, he has said the relationship gap between the UK and Russia is ‘wide but not unbridgeable’ as he holds out for a diplomatic solution.
Mr Wallace earlier invited his Russian counterpart, Sergey Shoygu, to visit London “in the next few weeks”, noting: “We’re ready to discuss issues related to mutual security concerns and engage constructively in good faith.”
He said: “We wish to be friends with the Russian people as we have been for hundreds of years. And there is a world in which we can establish a mutually beneficial relationship with Russia.
“I still remain hopeful that diplomacy will prevail. It is President Putin’s choice whether to choose diplomacy and dialogue, or conflict and the consequences.”
Labour shadow defence secretary John Healey described the situation as the “eleventh hour”, and welcomed the announcement of deliveries of defensive weaponry, but warned it “will be used by Russian propagandists as provocation”.
He said: “We welcome the recent expansion of bilateral British support to naval co-operation, and we back the new delivery of defensive weaponry the Defence Secretary has announced this afternoon.
“But let’s be clear, this will be used by Russian propagandists as provocation.”
He called for the Defence Secretary to spell out clearly “these are defensive anti-tank weapons” and “weapons that won’t be used unless Russia invades”.
He added: “These are dangerous days for security in Europe. Especially for the Ukrainian people, and even at this eleventh hour, across this House, we deeply hope that diplomacy, sound judgment and respect for international law will prevail with President Putin.”
Mr Wallace has said Foreign Secretary Liz Truss “plans to visit Ukraine soon” and was “working out dates for her visit”.
Responding to Labour, he said: “These are difficult times and dangerous times… it is important to navigate the very thin pass between provocation and defence of people who are clearly under threat and intimidation.”
However, the UK has also said it will not offer “false hope” of sending in troops to help Ukraine if war breaks out with Russia.
In the Commons, DUP MP Gavin Robinson asked: “Does he see circumstances in which there would be a revision of the position of no deployment of UK or allied troops?”
Ben Wallace replied: “I think the United Kingdom will always work with its allies to do what it can for its own security and its allies’ security.
“We will always keep all options open but, I have to be honest here, Russia is the biggest armed forces in Europe.
“Ukraine is not a member of Nato and I think it would be false hope to say that the British armed forces would be going unilaterally to Ukraine to join forces alongside Ukrainians in that environment, which is why we are putting all the effort in helping Ukraine help themselves, sanctions packages and diplomatic efforts.”