An invasion of Ukraine will drag Russia into a drawn-out “quagmire,” the UK’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned on Friday as Western countries crank up coordinated pressure on President Vladimir Putin.
Russia has amassed tens of thousands of troops on its border with Ukraine, and Western states fear Moscow is planning a new assault on the country it invaded in 2014.
Speaking at think tank the Lowy Institute in Australia, Truss urged Putin to “desist and step back from Ukraine before he makes a massive strategic mistake.”
The foreign secretary said the Ukrainians, who persevered through invasions and a state-sponsored famine, “will fight to defend their country” if they have to.
“Invasion will only lead to a quagmire,” she warned, drawing comparisons to the Soviet-Afghan war that lasted for more than 11 years and the Chechen–Russian conflict that dragged on for over 26 years.
Russia denies it is planning an attack but says it could take unspecified military action if a list of demands—many of which Western countries said were unacceptable—is not met, including promises from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to scale back the alliance’s activities to 1990s-era levels and to never admit Ukraine or any other countries as new members.
The UK’s Defence Minister Ben Wallace, who’s visiting Australia with Truss for talks on the two nations’ defence and security ties, previously said the fact that Ukraine is not a NATO member made it “highly unlikely” for Britain or its allies to send troops in the event of an invasion.
But Truss stressed that The UK and its NATO allies are hustling to bolster the Eastern European state’s defence capability, strengthen its ties with other countries, and reduce the global dependence on Russian gas.
She referred to a new UK package providing defensive weapon systems and training for Ukraine, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s statement after a NATO-Russia Council meeting on Jan. 12, in which Russia was threatened massive consequences, including through coordinated sanctions hitting the financial sector and individuals.
Truss said the UK and its partners are working on “high impact measures” targeting the Russian financial sector and individuals.
She also said the UK is strengthening its bilateral partnership with Ukraine and fostering new trilateral ties with Poland and Ukraine.
“We’re also pushing for alternatives in energy supply, so that nations are less reliant on Russia for their gas.”
Truss called on “everyone to step up … stand with Ukraine, and urge Russia to de-escalate.”
Truss’s speech also highlighted the need for democracies to work together to “face down global aggressors” such as Russia and China’s communist regime, which she said are “emboldened in a way we haven’t seen since the Cold War.”
Truss and Wallace’s visit comes after the UK, alongside the United States, signed a landmark agreement in September to provide Australia with the technology and capability to deploy nuclear-powered submarines.
Truss will also sign an agreement on infrastructure cooperation during a later visit to Adelaide as she seeks to align Britain’s economic objectives more closely with its diplomatic agenda.
Lorenz Duchamps and Reuters contributed to this report.