Speaking in Sydney on Friday, Ms Truss said the UK and its democratic allies in the “free world” must join together and “face down global aggressors” who were exploiting the “economic dependence” of countries to get what they want. Ms Truss said autocracies “seek to export dictatorship as a service around the world. That is why regimes like Belarus, North Korea and Myanmar find their closest allies in Moscow and Beijing.”
She said democratic countries had “not been doing enough since the end of the Cold War to make sure that we are deterring aggressors.”
Speaking at the Lowy Institute during a visit to Australia, Ms Truss said countries must scale back their economic reliance on Russia amid rising tensions on the Ukrainian border, with fears an invasion could be imminent. The foreign secretary warned President Putin to “desist and step back from Ukraine before he makes a massive strategic mistake”.
Referencing the Soviet war with Afghanistan from 1979-1989, Truss said the Kremlin “has not learned the lessons of history” and risked being dragged into a prolonged conflict and a “terrible quagmire and loss of life”.
The Foreign Secretary said: “We need everyone to step up. Together with our allies, we will continue to stand with Ukraine and urge Russia to de-escalate and engage in meaningful discussions. What happens in eastern Europe matters for the world.”
The warning came as diplomats from Russia and the United States were preparing to meet in Switzerland to discuss the situation in Ukraine after a series of high-level meetings last week failed to reach a breakthrough.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was due to meet Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva. The US and its allies have been continuing talks with the Kremlin in an attempt to de-escalate tensions on the Ukrainian border, where 100,000 Russian troops are currently stationed.
US President Joe Biden was lambasted on Wednesday after he suggested in a press conference that NATO members were divided on how to respond to Russia if it made a “minor incursion” into Ukraine.
“What you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades, and it depends on what it does,” said Biden in his first solo press conference of the year. “It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion, and then we end up having to fight about what to do and not do etc.”
The president said: “There are differences in Nato as to what countries are willing to do, depending on what happens. If there are Russian forces crossing the border…I think that changes everything.”
Mr Biden’s remarks caused alarm within the Ukrainian government. One official told CNN that the admission that Western nations were not aligned in how they would respond to a Russian invasion “gives green light to Putin to enter Ukraine at his pleasure.”
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A clarification issued by the White House just 30 minutes after Mr Biden’s press conference said: “If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe and united response from the United States and our allies.”
Speaking in Sydney, Ms Truss reaffirmed that a Russian invasion into Ukraine would “come at a massive cost.”
“We are prepared to put very severe sanctions in place, we are also working to support Ukraine in terms of defensive capability,” she said.
Ms Truss was joined in Australia this week by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace who confirmed on Monday that the UK had sent weapons to Ukraine, joining other countries such as Canada and the US who reportedly have military personnel and defence equipment on the ground.
In a joint statement, Ms Truss and Mr Wallace expressed their “absolute support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
The cabinet ministers travelled to Sydney to meet their Australian counterparts for the annual Australia-United Kingdom Ministerial Consultations (AUKMIN) where they discussed the recent Aukus defence partnership between Australia, the UK and the US, including plans for Australia to be given access to nuclear submarine technology.
The Aukus partnership sparked outrage in France when it was launched in September, with President Emmanuel Macron incensed at Australia’s cancelling of a longstanding submarine contract.
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Beyond the immediate threat of a Russian invasion into Ukraine, Ms Truss said the UK and its allies including Australia, India, Japan and Indonesia must reduce their dependence on Russia in order to protect their economic and democratic interests.
Ms Truss said “the free world 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, so in the future it becomes harder for those aggressive regimes to use economic dependence as a way of getting what they want.
She accused China of “economic coercion” against Australia, referring to Beijing slapping trade sanctions on Australian goods after Canberra called for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
Ms Truss called it “one of the wake-up calls” to the UK that Beijing was using its economic power to exert control over other countries to get its way.