The Daily Telegraph
‘Desperate’ Putin will be defeated, says Truss
Prime Minister condemns Russia’s nuclear threats as British hostages are released
LIZ TRUSS last night vowed that “desperate” Vladimir Putin would be defeated in Ukraine after the Russian president threatened nuclear war.
The Prime Minister said the world was witnessing a “decisive moment in the history of freedom”, and that 2022 was “the story of freedom fighting back” as she made her first address to the United Nations General Assembly.
Her speech followed a warning from Joe Biden, the US President, to Mr Putin that “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”.
Ms Truss said Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine had been a “catastrophic failure” and condemned the Russian president for using “barbarous” tactics.
It came as five Britons held by Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine were released in a prisoner swap deal negotiated by Saudi Arabia. They included Aiden Aslin, 28, and Shaun Pinner, 48, who were sentenced to death after being captured while fighting for Ukraine. Ms Truss said it was “hugely welcome news” and thanked Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, “for his efforts” to return the men to their families.
Mr Putin, in a televised address to the Russian people, had earlier made a clear threat to use nuclear weapons.
He said: “In case of a threat against our country’s territorial integrity, we will certainly use all means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people. This is not a bluff.”
The Russian leader ordered a partial mobilisation of 300,000 reservists in an attempt to turn the tide of the war.
It was the first such mobilisation by Russia since the Second World War, and triggered a rush for the border and protests across the country.
Referendums on joining Russia are to be held in four occupied areas of Ukraine later this week. The Kremlin is expected to declare that those territories have been annexed.
At the United Nations, Ms Truss held her first meeting as Prime Minister with Mr Biden, who told her: “You’re our closest ally in the world.”
The US President joined the Prime Minister in forcefully condemning Mr Putin’s “overt, reckless and irresponsible” nuclear threats, and issued a stark warning to the Kremlin.
He said the Russian leader had “shamelessly violated the core tenets” of the United Nations Charter.
In the meeting, Ms Truss and Mr Biden also discussed the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has plagued relations between the UK and Ireland since the signing of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, as it emerged Britain has set a six-month deadline to solve the impasse.
A resolution could pave the way for a major visit by Mr Biden to the UK in April, as he is believed to want to take part in events celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
Speaking before the bilateral meeting, Mr Biden told Ms Truss: “We are both committed to protecting the Good Friday Agreement of Northern Ireland. And I’m looking forward to hearing what’s on your mind.”
She replied: “I’m looking forward to discussing how we make sure that’s upheld into the future.”
On Ukraine, Mr Biden added: “They [Russia] are making irresponsible threats to use nuclear weapons. Now, Russia is calling up more soldiers … and the Kremlin is organising sham referendums.
“The world should see these outrageous acts for what they are. No one threatened Russia and no one other than Russia sought conflict.”
He said the war had been “chosen by
one man” and was intended to “extinguish Ukraine’s right to exist”.
Mr Biden said: “Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever you believe, that should make your blood run cold.” A White House official said Mr Biden’s remarks were intended to be a “firm rebuke” of Mr Putin.
Ms Truss accused him of making “sabre-rattling threats” while “desperately trying to justify his catastrophic failures”. She said: “He is doubling down by sending even more reservists to a terrible fate. This will not work. The international alliance is strong.
“Ukraine is strong. The Ukrainians are not just defending their own country, they are defending our values and the security of the whole world. We won’t rest until Ukraine prevails.”
Ms Truss added: “This is a decisive moment in our history, in the history of this organisation [the United Nations], and in the history of freedom.”
A UK diplomatic source said Mr Putin’s threats were being taken “very seriously”. They said: “The threat either of using tactical nuclear weapons... or using bigger nuclear weapons is very real.” But the source also noted Mr Putin was “shaking” during his address.
Other Western leaders in New York vowed not to recognise the sham referendums, and characterised Mr Putin’s escalation as a sign of weakness.
Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato secretarygeneral, said: “We have been so clear… with Russia about the unprecedented consequences, about the fact that the nuclear war cannot be won by Russia.”
Mr Putin’s announcement about mobilisation was followed by young Russian men trying to leave the country. Plane tickets to countries that do not require a visa quickly sold out and there were protests in dozens of cities across the country.