SYDNEY: During a Friday speech here, Britain’s top diplomat warned of serious economic damage against Russia should an invasion of Ukraine occur — but like US President Joe Biden earlier in the week, tacitly acknowledged that there is only so much the Western powers are prepared to do to protect Kyiv’s independence.
On the one hand, “very severe sanctions” will be imposed, as British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said at the Lowy Institute. On the other, Truss noted, “But of course, Ukraine isn’t a member of NATO. So it’s not in the same position as, for example, the Baltic states where there will be direct action in the case of any conflict.”
Those comments tracked with those of Biden, who at a Wednesday news conference suggested the US wouldn’t do much in the event of a “minor incursion” into Ukraine. The next day, the president tried to rejigger his language, saying he has been “absolutely clear with President Putin” that “if any assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion.”
That would be met, Biden said. with a “severe and coordinated economic response,” which has been “laid out very clearly with President [Vladimir] Putin.”
In her comments, Truss tried to undermine a key argument made by Putin, that Russia is only trying to regain influence and respond to untoward intrusions into Russian sphere’s of influence in Ukraine. “The Kremlin haven’t learned the lessons of history. They dream of recreating the Soviet Union, or a kind of greater Russia, carving up territory based on ethnicity and language. They claim they want stability while they work to threaten and destabilize others. We know what lies down that path, and the terrible toll in lives lost in human suffering it brings,” she said.
That comment led to a follow-up by Michael Fullilove, executive director of the Lowy Institute, noting that “In your speech, you said the Kremlin has not learned the lessons of history. But Vladimir Putin might reply that history tells him that the West, the free world, is not prepared to stand up to him after all. Eight years later, the Russian flag still flies over Crimea. Why are you confident that the free world will stand its ground (against Russia) as you said?”
Truss acknowledged “that the free world has not been doing enough since the end of the Cold War to make sure that we are deterring aggressors.” Her answer also made clear the limits of what the West can and will do.
“What I would say as well, is that dealing with this immediate situation is of course, an absolute priority, but the free world,” she said, “also needs to work together to reduce economic dependence on Russia, to put in place the agreements that help countries have alternatives in terms of trade and investment.”
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In other words, the West would try very hard to limit the ability of Russia’s economy to benefit from the great riches of the western world, but Russia’s control over gas pipelines to Germany, Ukraine and parts of the European Union give it great perceived leverage.
During the speech, the foreign secretary also hit on the US-UK-Austrailia security agreement known as AUKUS, although with few details.
She’ll be visiting the shipyards in Adelaide Saturday, where, as she put it, “the UK and Australia are building new type 26 frigates and Adelaide, of course, will play an important role in developing the new AUKUS submarines.”
She did not discuss whether Britain might supply its Astute class nuclear powered attack subs, help Australia co-produce them or provide any other details.
She did say that Britain is considering things like home porting for UK naval assets in Australia, perhaps mirroring the US Marine Corps regular visits to Darwin.
UK Foreign Sec to Putin: ‘Massive cost’ if Russia invades Ukraine – Breaking Defense Breaking Defense is written by Colin Clark for breakingdefense.com
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