Liz Truss has dismissed Vladimir Putin’s warning that Russia will use “all the means at our disposal” to protect itself as “sabre-rattling” in advance of her UN speech, where she will warn him: “This will not work.”
The Russian president’s threats in a televised address to the nation appeared to suggest the conflict in Ukraine could spiral into a nuclear crisis, prompting a furious response from world leaders, led by the US president, Joe Biden.
The new UK prime minister, who addresses the UN in New York hours after a virtual speech by the Ukraine president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, will urge world leaders not to “let up” on dealing with Putin despite domestic concerns over soaring energy prices.
“This morning we have seen Putin desperately trying to justify his catastrophic failures,” she is expected to say. “He is doubling down by sending even more reservists to a terrible fate. He is desperately trying to claim the mantle of democracy for a regime without human rights or freedoms. And he is making yet more bogus claims and sabre-rattling threats. This will not work.”
Truss will also use her address to highlight the continuing struggle, with economic security at its heart, between democracies and autocracies. “Unless democratic societies deliver on the economy and security our citizens expect, we will fall behind,” she is to say. “We need to keep improving and renewing what we do for the new era, demonstrating that democracy delivers.”
Earlier, in a joint statement with the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, Truss added that the Russian military mobilisation, with 300,000 reservists to be called up as the Kremlin attempts to regain ground in the face of a counterattack by Ukraine’s forces, was “a statement of weakness”.
The foreign secretary, James Cleverly, will face his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov at a meeting of the UN security council on Thursday, where he will set out how Russian forces continue to violate international law, and expose how Moscow plans to fix the results of sham referendums in occupied territories.
He is expected to say: “We can and must make clear to President Putin that his attacks on the sovereign will of the Ukrainian people – so clearly expressed as they fight for their homes – must stop. His assaults on the UN charter and international norms that protect us will not be tolerated and he must withdraw from Ukraine to enable a return to regional and global stability.”
As foreign secretary, Truss travelled to Moscow to meet Lavrov in February, just weeks before the invasion of Ukraine, but relations were icy with Russia’s top diplomat describing the talks as a conversation of “the mute with the deaf”, as she warned Moscow of tough sanctions in the event of an attack on Ukraine.
British officials said they treated Putin’s threat “very seriously” in terms of defence, but also as another example of Russia flouting international agreements. One senior diplomat said: “The threat either of using tactical nuclear weapons, which would be tragic, or using bigger nuclear weapons is very real.
“We’ve seen Putin lie and bluff his way throughout this war. But we’ve also seen him in some ways make some sensible decisions – so it’s hard to know. We take it very seriously.
“But we’re not going to engage in a battle of words about a nuclear threat from a man who postponed his speech last night, was shaking when he delivered it, and is now attempting to mobilise reservists who are attempting to get to airports across Russia. His lies are catching up with him, I think.”